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Top-20 Grapplers Halt Flames in NCAAs
Liberty's four NCAA qualifiers ran into Top-20 ranked grapplers in five of their eight bouts Thursday, as the Flames were shut out on the opening day of the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, to wrap up the 2010-11 season.
Action began at 11 a.m. inside the arena, where over 17,000 fans were in attendance for each of the two sessions on the day. With 340 bouts taking place on day one, eight grapplers remain in the Championship brackets in each of the 10 weight classes. Sixteen more wrestlers remain at each weight class in the wrestleback brackets. Unfortunately for the Flames, none of their grapplers will move on to day two.
Session I – Championship Round
The Flames' Robert Jillard led things off at 125 pounds, facing No. 3 seed Brandon Precin (27-1) of Northwestern for the second time this season. No. 3 ranked Precin defeated Jillard 12-0 at the Keystone Classic (Nov. 21), and provided a similar performance on Thursday, winning 11-0.
The senior jumped out quickly, scoring a takedown on Jillard 17 seconds into the 19th bout of the morning. Precin then chose bottom for the second period and upped his lead to 4-0 with a reversal. Jillard nearly broke out a couple of times, but Precin maintained control and tacked on a three-point near fall to close the period. In the final frame, Precin escaped while also adding a takedown and the riding time bonus for the 11-0 final score.
At 133 pounds, T. J. Mitchell provided the tightest match for the Flames in the opening session. Facing Buffalo's Kevin Smith (34-12), Mitchell dropped a narrow 3-2 decision.
Through the opening three minutes of action, the two grapplers found themselves knotted 0-0. Smith then broke through in the second period, as he posted the first points of the bout, escaping after choosing the down position. He also added a takedown in the second period, but Mitchell managed to escape and head to the final two minutes trailing 3-1.
After starting in the down position, Mitchell escaped early and was on the attack for the remainder of the bout. Despite making several aggressive shots, Mitchell was denied the decisive takedown and was edged, 3-2.
In the 165-pound bracket, Chad Porter looked to begin his tournament run with an upset, as he faced No. 5 seed and No. 5 ranked Colt Sponseller (21-5) of Ohio State in the opening round. The seeded grappler held his ground, however, winning 11-3.
Sponseller began the bout by scoring a takedown after a scramble, but Porter quickly escaped to make his deficit 2-1. The Buckeye then added two back points to close the opening three minutes.
After choosing bottom to open the second, Porter escaped to get within two, 4-2. Sponseller responded, however, with another takedown. In the final period, the Ohio State product added two more takedowns and gained the riding time bonus for the final 11-3 advantage, sending another Flame to the wrestlebacks.
Royal Brettrager II was the final Flame to hit the mat, facing freshman and Big Ten champion, Ed Ruth of Penn State. No. 2 seed and No. 2 ranked Ruth struck quickly, scoring a takedown, which led to a pin 24 just seconds into the 174-pound bout.
Session II – Championship and Wrestleback Round
The evening session began with Jillard and Mitchell's bouts overlapping in action, both resulting in decision losses which eliminated the Flames from the event.
Jillard's bout with No. 13 ranked Michael Martinez (18-9) of Wyoming began with a takedown from the Cowboy grappler. Jillard then escaped to hold the advantage to 2-1 leading into the second. After starting in the down position, Jillard escaped to tie up his consolation bout, 2-2. However, Martinez wrapped up the period with another takedown, earning a 4-2 advantage heading into the final.
Choosing the neutral position for the final period, Martinez tacked on a takedown and finished with the riding time bonus for his final 7-2 advantage, taking Jillard out of his first NCAA tournament.
Jillard's freshman campaign wraps up with a 20-12 record, as well as some invaluable experience at the NCAA tournament which he can build upon for the remainder of his career.
Meanwhile, Mitchell took on Nathan McCormick (21-14) of Missouri in his 133-pound consolation round bout. McCormick struck first, putting Mitchell down 2-0 with a takedown. The Flames' redshirt junior responded with an escape to cut the deficit. In the second, McCormick provided all the scoring, earning an escape as well as a takedown late in the period.
In the final stanza, Mitchell looked to escape early, but wouldn't manage to break free until just 10 seconds remained in the bout. McCormick held the riding time advantage to move on with the 6-2 victory, eliminating the Flames' second grappler on the evening.
Mitchell's year comes to an end with a 19-16 record. The 19 wins from Mitchell are a career best, with his previous mark being 13 wins in 2007-08.
Later on, redshirt senior Porter wrapped up his career as a Liberty Flame, as the Washington, W. Va., native came out on the wrong side of a struggle for position. No. 12 seeded and No. 12 ranked Cody Yohn of Minnesota pinned Porter 1:40 into the bout. As each scrambled to gain control of the match, Yohn found himself with the advantage to end the bout.
Porter's career will stand in Liberty's record books, as the 165-pounder has posted 105 wins in a Liberty singlet. He finishes his career tied for sixth on Liberty's all-time wins list, with Perry Ainscough, who grappled from 1983-86.
Brettrager hit the mat looking to send at least one Flame to the second day, but came up short against a competitor he had fallen to earlier in the year, Pat Martinez (25-12) of Wyoming.
The redshirt freshman for the Cowboys scored two takedowns in the opening two minutes of action, gaining a 4-1 edge. Brettrager fought hard, as he has all season long, but his opponent pushed on, only allowing escapes for the Kirtland, Ohio, native.
After building a 7-1 lead through two periods, Martinez wrapped up the Flames' postseason by adding two more takedowns and scoring the riding time bonus for the 12-3 victory.
Brettrager's freshman campaign finishes with a 13-13 record, with six of those victories coming by fall.
With no wins in the national event, Liberty is shut out at the NCAA Wrestling Championships for the first time since the reinstatement of the program for the 2006-07 season. The last time no wins were recorded at nationals came in 1993, when two Liberty qualifiers were denied victories on the national stage.
However, Liberty has much to build upon from this season after impressive campaigns from freshmen, a solid eight-match dual win streak, quality wins over programs such as Maryland and a fifth-consecutive NCAA East Regional Championship.