CLEVELAND — Ohio State has a 6-point lead on Penn State entering Saturday night’s championship round of the NCAA wrestling tournament, but the Buckeyes will need a lot of unexpected help to win the team title.
Ohio State needed to build a significant lead in Saturday morning’s consolation rounds at Quicken Loans Arena. But after a good start, the momentum fizzled. The Buckeyes lead Penn State 130.5-124.5.
That lead is precarious because the Nittany Lions have five finalists — and most are favored — while Ohio State has only Myles Martin and Kyle Snyder going for individual titles.
Penn State has won five of the last six NCAA titles, with Ohio State’s 2015 victory the exception.
“We knew we had a chance,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “We thought we might need some help in the finals. There were a lot of points on the board this morning and we lost a lot of tough ones.
“I think at this point, it’s really not in our hands, but we have two guys that came here to win a championship and we’re focusing on those two guys.”
Martin will wrestle Penn State’s Bo Nickal in the 184-pound finals. Martin defeated Nickal for the 174-pound title two years ago, but has won only one of the other six matches against him.
Snyder will face Michigan’s Adam Coon in the final match of the night at heavyweight. Coon handed Snyder his first collegiate loss in three years in a dual match before Snyder defeated him in overtime at the Big Ten championships.
Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello (125) and Joey McKenna (141) won both of their consolation matches Saturday morning to finish in third place. It was the third straight year that Tomasello finished third after winning the title as a redshirt freshman.
He started the morning with a pin — his second of the tournament — to give the Buckeyes needed bonus points.
“That was one of the main motivational factors, knowing we’re still in the team race and coming back and winning the last two matches and getting as many points as I could for the team,” Tomasello said. “
He then won a rugged third-place match in overtime over Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, earning a standing ovation for the Parma native. It was a nice rebound from a decisive loss to Iowa’s Spencer Lee in Friday’s semifinal.
“Spencer just beat me,” Tomasello said. “He was a better wrestler that night and give him a lot of props. But I felt that overall (in the tournament), I wrestled really hard and gave it my all I could. I don’t feel I have much regrets at all.”
McKenna was impressive during the NCAAs, losing only 1-0 to top seed Bryce Meredith in the semifinals. It was the junior’s second third-place NCAA finish, the first coming two years ago while wrestling for Stanford.
“I’d say as a freshman, it was a little more exciting,” McKenna said. “First time out, I was just really pumped. I was this year, too, especially after not placing last year. It still feels really good.”
Ryan said the Buckeyes almost needed to run the table, especially at the lighter weights, in the morning. When Luke Pletcher and McKenna followed Tomasello with consolation rounds, the Buckeyes looked to be on track to do that. But Micah Jordan lost both of his 157 consolation matches, and Bo Jordan lost his at 174 before taking fourth place by injury default.
Top-seeded Kollin Moore got a rematch with Kent State’s unseeded Kyle Conel, who pinned him in 90 seconds Saturday, but it didn’t go much better Saturday. Conel won by a 5-3 decision in the third-place match that featured only sporadic aggressiveness.
“The first match was too short,” Ryan said. “The second match was too long with too little effort. If you don’t put that kid under duress every second, then he’s still dangerous. If you stand around him for seven minutes, he’s as dangerous in the seventh minute as he is the first second.”
Now the Buckeyes need victories by Martin and Snyder to have any chance, but Ryan knows how steep the odds are.
“We felt if we were up by 10 going to the finals, it would give us a chance,” Ryan said.