Atop Cardiac Hill on Pittsburgh’s campus, Kent State made the hearts of many Panther fans stop as the Flashes wrestled to a 22-13 victory in Fitzgerald Field House Thursday night.
The 20th ranked Panthers and 23rd ranked Flashes grappled until the very end, with Kent State finishing on top. A quick start for Kent State was the deciding factor as the Flashes jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead to begin the match.
“It got our team rolling,” coach Jim Andrassy said. “We won three overtime matches. I think we just had more fight than they did tonight. They’re a good team. They’re not ranked 20th in the country for nothing.”
Kent State welcomed the return of Danny Mitcheff (133-pounds), Clint Sponseller (149-pounds) and Sli Bostelman (157-pounds) who all rejoined the team from injury.
197-pound junior Michael Blackwell started the match off with a convincing 12-6 victory that put Kent State ahead 3-0. 285-pound junior Jermail Porter then followed with another victory in a heated contest.
Porter managed a takedown against the nation’s 13th ranked wrestler in the weight class, junior Zach Sheaffer, with a minute to go in the second period to open the scoring. Then in the third, Porter nearly pinned Sheaffer, earning another two points. That was all Porter needed as he won 4-2, putting Kent State ahead 6-0.
“It helps someone like Jermail in the future,” Andrassy said. “He knows he can beat a kid like that. Last year he had a real bad match against that kid. It will give him confidence going in to the rest of MAC play.”
125-pound freshman Nic Bedelyon followed with a win 9-1 over his opponent, who he had lost to twice this year. The win gave fans a glance at how much the freshman has improved at such a young age.
“It helps a lot because I’ve been working real hard,” Bedelyon said. “I’m young, and everyone’s saying you’re going to have these times in the middle of the year when you’re going to be sore. I just keep pushing through everything at practice and it ends up working on the mat.”
A fourth straight win came from 133-pound junior Danny Mitcheff. Mitcheff’s win came with a takedown in overtime to win 2-0 in one of the most heated contests of the night. The score after four matches was 13-0 in favor of the Flashes.
“I just came back from a little injury so I just tried to go out there and wrestle hard,” Mitcheff said. “I just tried to come out with a victory and I did. It wasn’t the best, but I’ll take it.”
A fifth straight win came from 141-pound junior Drew Lashaway in another overtime bout. Lashaway trailed in the third period, but managed a takedown with 15 seconds left to send the match into overtime. Then, Lashaway managed a point in the extra session to the delight of his teammates, and the Flashes went up 16-0.
Kent State did not receive a defeat until the sixth match of the night when Pittsburgh junior Joe Ciampoli beat Kent State sophomore Jeremy Depoy 5-3 in the 149-pound match.
157-pound sophomore Sli Bostelman was then pinned in the next match, bringing the Panthers back in the mix with the score 16-9 in favor of the Flashes. Bostelman faced senior Matt Kocher, the fifth ranked wrestler in the nation in the 157-pound weight class.
167-pound senior Kurt Gross ended the losing streak, though he was pushed to the brink in his match. Gross won in overtime, making the overall score 19-9 in favor of the Flashes.
“It’s probably the best we’ve looked as a team,” Andrassy said. “We did a lot of the right things. The matches that went into overtime, we were the aggressor. I couldn’t be happier.”
Last season, Pittsburgh came to the M.A.C. Center and defeated the then ranked Flashes, leaving Kent State to have to wait a year for another shot at the Panthers. Pittsburgh came in to Thursday’s match at 10-2-0 overall on the year, its best start since the 1998-99 season.
Thursday was a shot at revenge, which panned out just as the Flashes had hoped. Not only was it a shot at revenge, but it was also a chance to get an edge on the series record, which was tied at 10 coming into the match.
“We work real hard,” Mitcheff said. “It’s just being mentally tough and going out there and trying to get that win.”
The outcome will undoubtedly send Kent State higher in the rankings, while Pittsburgh may drop from the Top 25. Regardless, the meeting of two ranked squads will help to prepare both for their respective conference tournaments as the regular season is quickly coming to an end.
“We’re a little bit ahead of schedule,” Andrassy said. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep our guys fresh so that when we get to March we’re ready for our second peak-time.
“I think it’s real important at this point in the year to keep guys healthy, keep them mentally focused and keep them mentally positive,” he added. “We’ve come a long way in our program. Five years ago we would have come in here and got killed by a team like (Pittsburgh).”
Next up, the Flashes head to Ohio for their second Mid-American Conference match of the year. So far, the Flashes are 1-0-0 in MAC play, defeating Northern Illinois last weekend.