Penn State rode a tremendous start to the NCAA wrestling semifinals on Friday, taking the lead from Ohio State in Session 4, 120.5 to 109.5.
The Nittany Lions won all five of their semifinal matches, while the Buckeyes only managed two of their possible six. Despite the 11-point gap, Ohio State has some potential to score many points in Session 5 tomorrow since they will have six wrestlers looking to finish in third. The current team standings:
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 17, 2018
The dream start for Penn State happened on Friday; it really could not have gone better to their script. Nathan Tomasello lost to Spencer Lee, and it really seemed to set off a chain of events that ended up putting the Buckeyes behind the 8-ball in Session 4. Following Luke Pletcher and Joey McKenna losses, the momentum for Penn State appeared to be building in Quicken Loans Arena.
Zain Retherford managed to pick up a 10-4 decision victory over No. 4 Troy Heilmann (North Carolina). Retherford pushed the pace hard against Heilmann and managed to put the Tar Heel in some awkward spots. Credit to Heilmann for staying in there and wrestling about as well as anyone has against Retherford in recent years. Retherford has one more match as a Penn State wrestler, and it'll be on the grandest stage of them all. He will face one of the tournament's great upset candidates in No. 15 Ronald Perry (Lock Haven), who just can't stop losing at the minute. This will be the first time these two have met.
Jason Nolf compounded Ohio State's misery with a 16-0 tech fall on No. 7 Micah Jordan (Ohio State). Nolf was closer to resembling Retherford than anything else in this beatdown. Nolf was just able to turn Jordan at will, nearly securing the fall on a couple of occasions. Jordan has had prominent issues on bottom, but even this was eyeopening to some degree. Nolf will face No. 1 Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State) tomorrow. This will be the first time these two have met.
The Buckeyes still have more potential points available, and a strong Session 5 can put Penn State under serious pressure in Session 6.
Vincenzo Joseph will wrestle in his second career final after a 3-1 victory over No. 2 David McFadden (Virginia Tech). Joseph wrestled another very close match, but he managed to stay as calm and cool as ever. McFadden is a very talented wrestler, but apart from a few close moments with some trips in the third, Joseph was able to fend off McFadden's attempts pretty well. Joseph will be facing No. 1 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) in a rematch of last year's thrilling final. Martinez was able to beat Joseph 4-1 at the Big Ten Tournament a couple of weeks ago.
Mark Hall picked up Penn State's only pin of Session 4 against No. 3 Daniel Lewis (Missouri). Hall put in his most impressive display of the season against Lewis, who has had a tremendous season and wrestled a great tournament. Lewis is a funky wrestler and he gave Vincenzo a heck of a time last year before Joseph made a dramatic comeback to beat him. However, Hall's defense and neutral ability were on display again. Hall was so confident, he took neutral with a 6-2 lead in the third. Lewis was pushing hard to get a big move and Hall planted Lewis for a third period fall. Hall will face No. 1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) in the final.
Bo Nickal was in another close one with No. 5 Domenic Abounader (Michigan), but Nickal prevailed again with a 6-3 win. Their first encounter earlier this season was far more controversial than their match in Session 4. Nickal was never all that threatened by Abounader and was able to ride the Wolverine fairly consistently. He will face familiar foe in No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State). Nickal will get the opportunity to fully avenge his upset loss to Martin in 2016.
Nick Lee completed his run from first-round loss to becoming a true freshman All-American with a win over No. 12 Tyler Smith (Bucknell) in the bloodround. He followed that up with a major decision over Sa'Darian Perry (Eastern Michigan) and will have the opportunity to wrestle for third today. Even though Lee appears undersized for this class at times, he has shown a ton of heart to get to where he is. The heart it takes to go from first-round loss to potentially in third is admirable. Lee has already wrestled above his seed, and he can only boost Penn State at this point. He will face No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri) in Session 5. Win and he wrestles for third; lose and he wrestles for fifth.
Shakur Rasheed and Nick Nevills will both be wrestling for seventh place. Rasheed lost to Ohio State's Kollin Moore 7-4 and the match played out similarly to their one at the Big Ten Tournament. Rasheed struggled to get to his offense and Moore controlled the pace. Rasheed will face No. 6 Willie Miklus (Missouri) for seventh.
Nevills ended up losing to Sam Stoll (Iowa) in overtime despite having done quite well against in him in their two prior encounters this year. Nevills will face No. 12 Youssif Hemida (Maryland) for seventh, and Nevills was 2-0 this season against Hemida. These two losses hurt Penn State's team point potential a bit, as now they only have one wrestler with a chance for third tomorrow.
Despite the 11-point lead that Penn State opened up, Ohio State is still within a shout due to the sheer volume of wrestlers they have eligible for third. They'll have six wrestlers competing tomorrow in Session 5, and while they all don't have equal chances to win, the opportunity is still there. The Buckeyes still have more potential points available, and a strong Session 5 can put Penn State under serious pressure in Session 6. However, as Session 4 showed, Penn State will not go away quietly.
Session 5 will begin today at 11 a.m. EDT.