The Pitt-Johnstown wrestling team will place at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals competition when action resumes today, but it’s not exactly where coach Pat Pecora wanted the Mountain Cats to finish.

UPJ (14-3) came into the dual-meet tournament, which is being held at the University of Northern Iowa, ranked third in Division II, but the Mountain Cats were upset in the quarterfinals by Ashland (Ohio) 19-12.

Overall, UPJ went 3-1, with lopsided wins over Central Missouri State (29-6), Mercyhurst (31-7) and Shippensburg (28-9), and will face Augustana (S.D.) in the fifth-place match at 2 p.m. today.

But the loss to Ashland, as well as a knee injury suffered by 165-pounder Albert Miles, left a sour taste in Pecora’s mouth.

“Very, very, very disappointing,” Pecora said of the loss to Ashland. “That threw the whole tournament into down mode. It was a bummer.”

It was also a rough day for UPJ’s Mike Corcetti, who is ranked No. 1 in Division II at 184 pounds but only went 2-2 on the day.

UPJ did have some bright spots. Ryon Mazzocco, the team’s 125-pounder went 4-0, including a 4-0 win over Shippensburg’s Jaime Thomas. The Red Raider wrestler, who is ranked No. 1, beat Mazzocco earlier in the season when the UPJ senior held the top spot.

“It was good to get that win back,” admitted Mazzocco, who said that getting points for the team was his main goal.

Mazzocco, who is ranked third, also beat No. 8 Mike Compton of Ashland and scored a second-period fall over Mercyhurst’s Payne Lint

Thad Benton, the defending national champ at 141, was the only other Mountain Cat to go 4-0. Benton beat fifth-ranked Wade Killgore of Central Missouri State and pinned Shippensburg’s Alex Renn.

UPJ’s Eli Garshnick was 3-0 on the day. The sixth-ranked wrestler at 174 pounds, Garshnick knocked off No. 3 Clint Carmony of Ashland.

Heavyweight Zach Majocha and Jay Matteo (149) were the only other Mountain Cats to post at least two wins with no losses. Joe Strittmatter went 3-1 at 157 pounds.

UPJ had a 9-0 lead over Ashland but that evaporated quickly as the Eagles put together three straight wins, including a major decision by Pete Carnabuci at 157, for a 10-9 lead. The most painful loss was at 165, where Miles not only dropped a decision,4-3, to Eric Lakia, but also suffered an injury to his right knee that knocked him out of the tournament and might keep him out even longer.

“It doesn’t look good for him,” Pecora said late Saturday. “It sounds bad.”

Garshnick briefly gave the lead back to UPJ, but Corcetti’s 4-3 loss put Ashland back in control.

UPJ’s Mike Fowler, who is ranked seventh at 197, dropped a 5-3 decision to No. 4 Ryan Kirst, giving the Eagles a four-point lead heading into the final bout. Jon Neese, UPJ’s backup 285-pounder, lost 8-5 to Josh Ohl to set the final.

“It’s disappointing,” Mazzocco said of the loss. “You can’t put it on one person. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

The Mountain Cats had little time to regroup as they faced Mercyhurst almost immediately afterward.

“After a loss, I need 45 minutes to an hour by myself,” Pecora said. “So to walk right across the mat and wrestle again, it’s very tough.”

Although the score didn’t indicate it, the Mountain Cats looked sluggish at times against Mercyhurst. But they got the win and seemed to pick up steam in the final match of the night.

Mazzocco is looking for the team to keep that momentum.

“We’ve got to finish this tournament off, take fifth – the best we can – and get back in the room, work hard to win a team national title at the end,” he said.



Eric Knopsnyder can be reached at 532-5080 or eknopsnyder@tribdem.com.

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