Ohio State was pretty much perfect in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Championships, putting all five title contenders into Sunday's finals. With nine wrestlers still battling for placements on Day 2, the Buckeyes passed Minnesota in the team race, but still stand well behind Penn State.
Perhaps more important than defending the team's back-to-back tournament titles, eight members of the roster punched their tickets to Pittsburgh, earning automatic bids to the NCAA Championships.
Heavyweight Chase Singletary was the only member of the team eliminated from the tournament Saturday, falling to Maryland's Youssif Hemida in the consolation bracket; he'll hope for an at-large bid when those are announced Tuesday. Malik Heinselman is still alive in a mini-bracket for the Big Ten's ninth automatic bid at 125 pounds.
Finals, Party of Five
Luke Pletcher became the first Buckeye to advance to the Big Ten finals when No. 1 Stevan Micic forfeited their semifinal match at 133 pounds. Micic wrestled with a bulky knee brace throughout the tournament, and Michigan's staff apparently felt discretion was the better part of valor and ceded the match.
Pletcher will face Nick Suriano of Rutgers, who advanced to the championship bout after a wild finish versus Iowa wildcard Austin DeSanto. Things looked like they might get ugly in the final seconds of the bout, but cooler heads prevailed.
Joey McKenna and Micah Jordan both got to wrestle their semifinal matches, with McKenna avenging his dual-meet loss to Penn State's Nick Lee and The Mongoose flattening Brady Berge in a major decision.
Even with the two wins over Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes still trail Cael Sanderson's Howling Commandos by more than 20 points in the team title race.
McKenna will defend his Big Ten title against No. 20 Chad Red of Nebraska, who entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed and upset top-seeded Michael Carr of Illinois. McKenna is aiming for his fourth conference title; he won a pair of Pac-12 titles at Stanford prior to making the move to Columbus last season.
Jordan will face top-ranked Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers in the 149-pound finals. Ashnault is the only man to beat Jordan this season.
In the upper weights, Myles Martin handled No. 8 Emery Parker of Illinois with relative ease in the 184-pound semi, and Kollin Moore opened up his offense in the final frame to thwart a game No. 5 Jacob Warner of Iowa at 197.
Martin will face Penn State's Shakur Rasheed in the championship bout, and Moore squares up against No. 1 Bo Nickal, a strong contender for the Hodge Trophy.
Martin and Rasheed are two of a small number of as-yet undefeated wrestlers in NCAA Division I. Moore has two Big Ten titles at 197 to his credit, but Nickal pinned him during the first period of their dual-meet matchup a month ago.
Still in the hunt...
In the consolation bracket, Ethan Smith and Te'Shan Campbell wrestle Sunday morning in the consolation semifinals for a spot in their respective third-place bouts.
Smith notched a takedown in the first period to go up 2-0 over Wisconsin's Ryan Christensen, but the Badger was injured in the exchange and defaulted. He'll face No. 13 Devin Statzka of Minnesota.
Campbell advanced after wrestling one of his best third periods of the season. Trailing in a 1-0 snoozefest versus Bryce Martin of Indiana after the first 5 minutes of competition, 'Shan went wild: starting from bottom, he scored a quick reversal to take the lead, and not only rode Martin to the whistle but put him on his back twice for a pair of 4-point near falls.
The riding time point gave him an 11-2 major decision. He'll face Michigan's Logan Massa in the consolation semifinals Sunday.
Ke-Shawn Hayes had a tough end to the day, and will wrestle for 7th Place after losing an 11-1 major decision to No. 7 Kaleb Young of Iowa. Hayes got on the wrong side of a tilt in the first period and never recovered. In a cruel twist of fate, his opponent in the Placement match is John Van Brill of Rutgers, the opponent who pinned him out of the championship bracket earlier in the tournament.
Another Sunday Coming Down
All things considered, it was a good day for Tom Ryan's team. Although a fourth Big Ten title in five years may be out of reach when the dust settles, putting five men into the final round and picking up at least eight automatic bids to the NCAA tournament is an unqualified success.
To put things into perspective, yes, Penn State leads by 20+ points in the team race... but Ohio State is 27.5 points ahead of Nebraska after the first day of action.
Session III of the Big Ten Championship gets underway at 1 p.m. Sunday and will again stream via BTN Plus. The championship round is slated for 4 p.m. and will air live on the Big Ten Network.