PITTSBURGH – Penn State's fourth consecutive national title didn't need an exclamation point, but Bo Nickal provided one.
Nickal pinned Princeton's Pat Brucki on Friday night to give the Nittany Lions five finalists in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships and put them on the brink of the program's eighth team championship in nine seasons.
The 197-pounder will be joined in Saturday's finals – which begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN – by teammates Jason Nolf (157 pounds), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Anthony Cassar (285).
The Nittany Lions have 120.5 points to 88.5 for second-place Ohio State. Technically, coach Cael Sanderson's crew has not clinched the title, but the Buckeyes would need a pin in almost every match they wrestle on Saturday and would need Penn State to lose every one of its bouts.
That's almost inconceivable the way Nickal is wrestling. The two-time NCAA champion is 29-0 this season and has three pins and a major decision at the nationals. He'll face Ohio State's Kollin Moore – whom he has beaten twice this season – in the finals.
Nickal was the most dominant Nittany Lion on a night when his teammates wrestled close, tight matches. But Cassar might have notched the most impressive victory. The heavyweight beat Minnesota's Gable Steveson for the second time this year. Until the Big Ten Tournament two weeks ago, wrestling experts wondered if the Golden Gophers freshman could go undefeated and win four NCAA titles.
Cassar will face Oklahomas State's Derek White for the title, but said he hasn't paid much attention to the top seed.
“I don't know anything about him,” Cassar said. “I study champions in other fields, the best painter or the best boxer. I study champions and I see the qualities I have in them and I like to take notes and imitate their qualities and characteristics I don't have yet. So I'm a big studier of who I want to be in my field.”
Nolf – who like Nickal is a two-time NCAA champion and unbeaten this season – survived his toughest match of the year for a 3-2 victory over Hayden Hidlay of North Carolina State. Hidlay, a graduate of Mifflin County in District 6, was awarded a takedown in the first period only to have it wiped out by video review.
“That match was probably not the best that I could do, but I gave 100 percent attitude and effort, and that's all I really ask of myself,” Nolf said. “Just didn't have the offense tonight, but I got it done, and I will tomorrow. I'll be ready.”
Nolf will face Nebraska's Tyler Berger – whom he has beaten twice this season – in the final.
In addition to the five finalists, Penn State has Nick Lee (141) and Roman Bravo-Young (133) returning for medal matches on Saturday.
Despite a resurgent dual-meet season, tournament host Pitt will not have an All-American. Micky Phillippi (133) and Nino Bonaccorsi (184) dropped back-to-back matches on Saturday. Taleb Rahmani (157) and Demetrius Thomas (285) also were eliminated.
Lehigh's Ryan Preisch, a Milton High school graduate, is an All-American at 184 pounds. He'll wrestle North Carolina's Chip Ness in the consolation semifinals on Saturday.
Franklin graduate Dakota Geer, who is at Oklahoma State, will wrestle for seventh place at 184.
Iowa's Spencer Lee, who attended Saegertown before winning three PIAA titles for Franklin Regional, will defend his 125-pound title on Saturday against Virgina's Jack Mueller.