Chris Eddins

Pitt-Johnstown's Chris Eddins has his hand raised after defeating Tiffin's Trey Grine in the championship match at 149 pounds at the NCAA Division II wrestling tournament in Cleveland on Saturday, March 9, 2019. 

A string of victories for top-ranked Pitt-Johnstown at 141, 149 and 157 pounds allowed the Mountain Cats to secure a 31-12 victory over No. 15 Kutztown on Friday at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.

Wrestling for the first time on their home mats, the Mountain Cats found themselves tied with after the first two weight classes. 

At 125, seventh-ranked senior Brendan Howard was aggressive early against Kutztown’s Matt Wilde and took the decision 10-4. With the top ranked 133-pound wrestler in Tyler Warner out, Pitt-Johnstown coach Pat Pecora inserted junior Matt Siszka in his place. While Siszka – normally a 125-pounder – held his own, he fell 9-3 to Kutztown’s Collin Wick.

The third weight class brought about the new wave of Mountain Cats to help break open the match. At 141, freshman Jacob Ealy made his Sports Center debut with a technical fall at 2:52 over Maike Albergio, grabbing five points for the hosts.

“We knew he was good coming into the program, but he’s definitely well so far above what we were expecting from him at this point,” Pecora said. “We usually redshirt the freshmen, but he was good enough to start.”

Ealy, now a winner in his last three individual matches, knows how unique it is to be out on the mat as a freshman.

“It feels different being the only freshman out on the mat warming up,” Ealy said. “But at the same time, we’re all teammates.”

At 149, reigning Division II national champion Chris Eddins pinned Mike Cusick in 2:45. Eddins was followed on the card by another freshman in Nate Smith at 157. Smith, who redshirted in 2018-19, was matched up with another freshman, A.J. Bencivenga, for Kutztown. Smith used a takedown in each of the first two periods to build a lead heading into the third period. As time was winding down, Bencivenga fought and was able to earn an escape point to make things tight, but a final takedown in the last 30 seconds of the period sealed the victory for Smith.

For Pecora, those three weight classes turned the tide in the match.

“It was huge to get those three in a row because it kind of took (the match) away a little bit,” Pecora said.

With the team score at 18-3 halfway through the match, another replacement for a top-ranked Mountain Cat came up in the 165-pound class. Second-ranked Devin Austin was scratched, putting junior Gage Thomas in the fire against 11th ranked Chad Haegele. Early on, it was a feeling-out process, with both Thomas and Haegele staying neutral. Unfortunately, as time was winding down in the second period, Thomas had his shoulder dislocate, and he was unable to finish.

The next three weight classes saw three victories for Pitt-Johnstown, including third-ranked Connor Craig at 184, who transferred to the program after winning a national title with Wheeling Jesuit. Craig pinned James Pott in 3:30 with Alex Delp’s 7-4 decision over Robert Spezza giving the Mountain Cats the win at 197.

The bout at 285 brought about the loudest noise of the night. 

But, a penalty against Pitt-Johnstown’s Allan Beattie gave the lead to the reigning national champ Andrew Dunn, Jr., who held on for a 4-2 win.

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