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Roger Moore | NCAA.com | March 22, 2014

Minnesota cuts Penn St.'s lead to 1/2 point entering finals

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was plenty of drama during Friday night's fourth session of the 2014 NCAA championships inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

And after an emotionally draining semifinal round, and some grind-it-out wrestlebacks, not much was decided.

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Oklahoma State, second place finishers by four points in 2013, made a charge, pushing four wrestlers into the championship finals. Josh Kindig (149), Alex Dieringer (157), Tyler Caldwell (165), and Chris Perry (174) each won tough bouts. But with heavyweight Austin Marsden the lone remaining Cowboy in wrestlebacks, will five top-eight finishers be enough?

Penn State won just two of four semifinal matches -- David Taylor and Ed Ruth. Five others are still grinding in wrestlebacks.

J Robinson's Minnesota Gophers made a late push. When heavyweight Tony Nelson advanced to his third NCAA final, UM drew to within ½ point of Penn State.

At the end of the carnage, it was PSU at 91, Minnesota at 90 ½, and Oklahoma State at 87 ½. When the tournament convenes Saturday morning, expect a little more drama.

"We always want more points and we wanted a little bit more, but we have to keep fighting," PSU head coach Cael Sanderson said. "Everyone wants a little bit more; how we finish tomorrow is obviously very important."

"We had a good effort [Friday," OSU head coach John Smith said. "Scoring points is obviously the key and pushing four to the finals was big. Nothing is guaranteed in this tournament; I think we saw that today.

"We had a good enough effort to give us a shot."

PSU's Taylor (33-0) was his usual self in the semifinals, beating North Dakota State's Steven Monk 13-5 in the 165-pound semifinals. The champion two seasons ago will take just three career losses into his final collegiate match against Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell, now a two-time finalist and four-time All-American. Caldwell controlled Virginia's Nick Sulzer in his semifinal and will take his shot at perhaps the nation's top collegiate wrestler.

"You expect a guy like Dave Taylor to be in the finals, just given his past," said Caldwell, who has three losses in 2013-14, two coming to Taylor. "He's been in there three times now. He's national champ so you expect that. But, also, crazier things have happened, so you never know."

The second of Penn State's one-two punch, Ruth (33-1), who has two career losses going into his final match, beat Cornell freshman Gabe Dean 5-3 to advance to his third consecutive NCAA final. He suffered a loss to Dean back in January.

Ruth will face Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock, who remained unbeaten with a win against Old Dominion's Jack Dechow in the 184-pound final.

Oklahoma State's Perry, a champion last March, advanced by the narrowest of margins when he escaped late in a second tiebreaker to beat Iowa's Mike Evans. Perry (29-1) avoided disaster late in the first one-minute overtime and won another tough match. Last March during his run he won three overtime matches.

Saturday night, it will be another tough one when Perry meets Oklahoma's Andrew Howe (28-1), who got by Minnesota's Logan Storley. Perry and Howe met in controversy-filled Big 12 Conference final two weekends ago won by the OSU senior.

The 149-pound bracket continued its goofiness. Kindig (24-8), a two-time qualifier at 141 pounds who redshirted last season, continued his surprising run with a win against Lehigh's Mitch Minotti. The Cowboy junior will face Northwestern freshman Jason Tsirtsis, who beat top-seeded Drake Houdeshelt of Missouri in an overtime tiebreaker. Tsirtsis (31-3) sent Oklahoma's Kendric Maple into the wrestlebacks with an overtime win in the quarterfinals.

Minnesota's Dylan Ness scored a late takedown to beat Kent State's Ian Miller in the 157-pound semifinals. The junior, a finalist two seasons ago as a freshman, entered as a No. 9 seed and has three pins this week, finishing with his patented unorthodox style.

"A lot of my matches have been funky, but overall it's been basic, basic, basic at first, then that's when I've been able to hit those big moves," said Ness (23-5). "[Miller] is pretty strong and he's funky himself. And I just kept it safe, not to try to catch myself."

The Gopher will square off with Oklahoma State's Alex Dieringer (31-1), who got by Cornell's Brian Realbuto for the second time this season. Dieringer was third at the 2013 championships.

Ohio State's Logan Stieber (29-1) had two explosive first-period takedowns for a 4-1 lead and never looked back in beating Penn State freshman Zain Retherford, a freshman who gave Stieber his only loss this season. The Buckeye will face Virginia Tech's Devin Carter (18-0), injured for most of the season but on fire this week. Carter hammered North Carolina's Evan Henderson 12-3 to advance to the big stage.

"When you look at it, the past is the past," Carter said. "Once I got cleared, once I wrestled a couple of close matches, once I wrestled ACCs, once I proved to myself I could go 100 percent and get back to my old self, it hasn't really changed my goals."

Like Stieber, Minnesota's Nelson (30-4) will go for a third title. He bested Iowa's Bobby Telford and gets NC State's Nick Gwiazdowski (42-2) on Saturday night.

Iowa senior Tony Ramos has lived dangerously all week, winning every match with necessary third-period points. On Friday night, in a 0-0 match with Edinboro's A.J. Schopp, Ramos (31-2) again pulled one out of the fire, catching Schopp on his back in the third of a 5-1 decision. Schopp beat the Hawkeye, a runner-up in 2013, during the regular season.

Ramos will face two-time All-American Tyler Graff (31-4), who knocked off top-seeded Joe Colon of Northern Iowa 6-4. It was Colon's second loss in 35 starts.

The defending champion at 125 pounds, Illinois junior Jesse Delgado improved to 29-2 with a victory against Northern Iowa freshman Dylan Peters. The other semifinal saw Cornell's talented sophomore, Nahshon Garrett (34-1), beat Penn State's Nico Megaludis for the third time this season. Megaludis lost to Delgado in the 2013 final.

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