Luke Pletcher suffered one of the most heartbreaking semifinal losses of the NCAA Wrestling tournament in Pittsburgh, but bounced back Saturday morning to advance to the 3rd Place match.
While of the focus among spectators was on Myles Martin's shocking upset loss to No. 5 Max Dean of Cornell, Pletcher faced a taller task in finishing strong in his home state of Pennsylvania Saturday morning. With Penn State holding a 32-point lead in the team race after the semifinal round, Saturday's consolation matches were about one thing, and one thing only: personal pride.
The tournament veteran acquitted himself well, representing his program at a high level with nothing on the line but besting the man across the mat.
Fourth Place at 133 Pounds: Luke Pletcher
Luke Pletcher is not the flashiest guy wrestling in an Ohio State singlet this weekend in Pittsburgh. Myles Martin has the moves, Micah Jordan is "The Mongoose," Joey McKenna has fabulous hair and a propensity for 6-point moves.
What Luke Pletcher has in abundance, however, is heart.
Cliché as it is for a sportswriter to talk about heart, when you get the final day of the NCAA Wrestling Championships, heart is as often as not the thing that separates wrestlers of similar talent and skill. In his first consolation match Saturday morning, Pletcher showed that he not only had the technical prowess but the intestinal fortitude needed to retake the lead in the waning moments of the third period, and then go on to win on the mat.
— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) March 23, 2019
The Pennsylvania native found himself battling Iowa's Austin DeSanto for a spot in the tournament's 3rd place match after dropping a close decision to No. 1 seed Daton Fix of Oklahoma State. Fix is a 2017 Junior World Champion and one of the most impressive redshirt freshman in the country; Pletcher held his own against the cowboy from the neutral position, but Fix was too much on top and sent Pletcher to the wrestlebacks.
With Ohio State all but mathematically eliminated in the team race, it would be easy to check out mentally ahead of the Saturday morning session. Pletcher looked the opposite versus DeSanto, wrestling's consummate bad boy.
From the opening whistle the difference in their styles was evident: DeSanto is brash, abrasive even, while Pletcher may best be summed up by the adage "still waters run deep." Pletcher got the first point of the match on a DeSanto penalty, but the Hawkeye would get the first takedown of the match late in the first period; Pletcher's quick escape would tie the score at 2 apiece after 3 minutes.
In the second, Pletcher escaped quickly to pull ahead by a point, but a series of stalling warnings against the Buckeye gave DeSanto his third point to tie the score again. As a side note, this match would have been a high-scoring affair if NCAA rules included freestyle's points for step/push outs.
The final frame opened with DeSanto on bottom and he escaped quickly to retake the lead. Pletcher responded with a huge shot to tie the match at 5 each, though DeSanto would escape at the minute mark to take the lead again.
With barely 20 seconds left on the clock, Luke Pletcher reached deep in the well and came up with the will to win. He fired off a huge takedown on the edge of the mat for the go-ahead score. Iowa's coaches threw the challenge brick out of desperation, but the takedown was clear and the call stood.
Holding a 7-6 lead and riding time not a factor, Luke Pletcher needed to ride Austin DeSanto for 17 seconds. Late in a third period with the match on the line, against a competitor like DeSanto, 17 seconds seemed like an eternity from the stands.
Luke Pletcher would not be denied the right to wrestle in primetime in front of his home-state crowd, and he dominated DeSanto for the ride-out and the victory.
A lot of heart and fight right there by @LukePletcher!
— Logan Stieber (@_LogieBear_) March 23, 2019
Advancing to the 3rd Place Match against familiar Big Ten foe Stevan Micic, the No. 2 seed, Pletcher had his work cut out for him facing a man who handed him a 14-1 major decision loss earlier this season.
Pletcher wrestled a much tighter match in Pittsburgh than he did in Columbus, holding Micic to a 2-1 lead through two periods. The Sickle got rolling in the final frame, connecting on a takedown early in the period and riding Pletcher for nearly the balance of the match to earn a 6-2 decision and 3rd Place.
He told reporters after the match that he felt like he improved quite a bit in the months between his meetings with Micic, but that he has a long way to go to reach his ultimate goals.
Luke Pletcher said he feels like he has improved, but his second straight fourth place finish at NCAAs showed he still has improvement left to make. For him, that starts with improving on bottom. pic.twitter.com/vB1HAZEGDG
— Edward Sutelan (@EdwardSutelan) March 23, 2019
Ohio State's two-time All American finished in 4th Place at the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season, ending the year with a record of 27-7, including a 4-2 mark in Pittsburgh. Given the incredible depth at 133 – particularly among the Big Ten teams – Pletcher's placing is an incredible achievement.
|Rd of 32||No. 5 Luke Pletcher, major decision over No. 28 Tim Rooney (Kent State), 12-3||2.0|
|Rd of 16||No. 5 Luke Pletcher, decision over No. 12 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), 5-3||1.0|
|No. 5 Luke Pletcher, decision over No. 4 Micky Phillippi (Pittsburgh), 3-1||1.0|
|SEMIFINAL||No. 1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), decision over No. 5 Luke Pletcher, 4-2||0.0|
|Cons. Semi||No. 5 Luke Pletcher, decision over No. 7 Austin DeSanto (Iowa), 7-6||0.5|
|3rd Place||No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan), decision over No. 5 Luke Pletcher, 6-1||9.0 (4th Place)|
With two Top-4 finishes at 133 pounds to his credit, he'll provide a wealth of battle-tested experience as a senior leader among a pack of young lightweights on Ohio State's roster next season.