UNIVERSITY PARK - If there's a question as to how much difference there is between the 23rd-ranked college wrestling team and the top-ranked squad, it was answered by Sunday's dual meet between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions.
After seeing the team score deadlocked at 9-all midway through the dual with the Panthers still hanging around, the Lions flexed their muscles down the stretch as they won the final five bouts for 19 unanswered points and a 28-9 win.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
Penn State’s Jordan Conaway wrestles Pitt’s Shelton Mack under the Bryce Jordan Center lights Sunday afternoon. The Nittany Lions won the instrastate battle in a rare appearance in the big arena.
Not only was it a big win for the Lions, but it also took place before an NCAA dual-meet record crowd of 15,996 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
"I think that is very exciting," said PSU head coach Cael Sanderson about breaking the record. "We were hoping that it would happen because it is a great deal for our program and also a big deal because it happened between two Pennsylvania schools. We really appreciate everybody who came out and supported this team and wrestling in general."
Nico Megaludis got the Lions off and running at 125 when he used an escape and takedown in the middle period to go along with a time point for a 4-1 win over nationally-ranked Anthony Zanetta.
Shelton Mack got the Panthers on the board for the first of only two times in the dual when he was three points better than Jordan Conaway for a 5-2 win.
Then true freshman Zain Retherford remained unbeaten for the season at 141 when he used a pair of escapes and 1:49 time advantage for a 3-2 nod over freshman Edgar Bright.
After the Retherford win came somewhat of a stunner as Penn State's James English was holding a 4-2 lead over former PIAA state champ Mike Racciato of Pen Argyl when Racciato caught English in the middle of a scramble and pinned the Lion with only eight seconds left in the bout.
With the Racciato fall, Pitt held its only lead in the meet at 9-6 - but that would be the final scoring for Pitt during the match.
James Vollrath quickly took care of that when he used three takedowns and an escape for a 7-2 nod over Cole Sheptock to tie the score at 9-all heading into halftime.
While the Panthers had a few things to holler about in the first half of the meet, they had nothing to call home about in the second half.
David Taylor put State on top for good when he slicked and crunched Geno Morelli for a fall just nine seconds into the middle period.
"I really don't know what happened," Taylor chuckled. "Really, I just shot in and I have a couple of tricks when that happens. I put him on his back and the ref called a pretty quick pin. Maybe it was a little too fast, but I am not really complaining about it. I was in pretty good position and I liked where I was because I am at my best when I am in flurries. Today I was able to create some flurries and action and today good things happened."
Matt Brown followed with a dominating 9-3 win over Tyler Wilps at 174 and former PIAA state champ Wes Phipps from Grove City gave the fans a lot to cheer about when he literally thumped Aaron Rothwell for a 13-3 major at 184.
"(Ed) Ruth will be coming back here pretty soon, so it was kind of my last little hoorah," Phipps said. " I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I had and have some fun. The coaches said go out there and score (a lot of) points. I just won a match in Boston the same way, kind of getting some takedowns and tried to replicate it."
As for wrestling on the elevated mat, Phipps and his teammates thought it was a lot like the national tournament.
"I thought it was sweet," Phipps said. "It's a lot like NCAAs with the big stage rose up, and it makes a pretty sweet sound whenever you pick a guy up and slam them down on it."
With the Phipps win, the Lions clinched the meet as a "W" at 22-9 with two bouts remaining.
With only the final score to be determined, Morgan McIntosh and Jimmy Lawson picked up decisions to set the final.
Now 5-0 in dual meets, the Lions will next hit the mats when they host Ohio State Sunday in Rec Hall. First whistle for that match is set for noon.