HERSHEY, Penn. -- For all of the brackets that strayed from their seedings throughout the NCAA Division III Championships, what occurred in the 133-pound semifinals Saturday morning on the floor Giant Center certainly ranked among the most unlikely of scenarios.
Although their paths traveled certainly differed -- seeded versus unseeded, rookie from a solid regional program versus upperclassmen from a vaunted national power -- both Wilkes' Matthew Grossman and Augsburg's Chad Bartschenfeld will find themselves vying for a national championship tonight after outpointing higher-ranked opponents.Grossman sprung one of the tournament's biggest shockers -- at least to those outside of the Wilkes wrestling room -- by upending top-seeded, two-time All-American and previously undefeated Nathaniel Giorgio of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy by a 3-1 count to draw a roar of raucous cheering.
On the adjacent mat seconds later, Bartschenfeld knocked off his third consecutive seeded opponent by outpointing sixth-seeded Evan Obert of Luther 6-4 to cause a large crowd of Augsburg fans to erupt after he became the only unseeded wrestler remaining in the hunt for a national championship after thinking he was overlooked entering the weekend.
"I think that I was and I think that's a good thing," Bartschenfeld said after improving to 30-11 while helping the Auggies claim a narrow lead in the team race against Wartburg entering the evening championship session. "You don't see the dark horse coming. Unseeded in the finals usually doesn't happen.
"I don't think they're overlooking me anymore."
Grossman and Bartschenfeld were both overlooked as title contenders considering the season- and career-long excellence Giorgio displayed in winning his first 41 matches and dominating his first two bouts on this national stage.
However, Grossman scored an early takedown and managed a third-period escape to become the first of five grapplers to topple a top seed while positioning himself to become the Colonels' first national champion since at least 1974 according to coach Jon Laudenslager.
"It's an awesome feeling. It's been a season of a lot of hard work that's paying off," said Grossman, who competing twice at the Giant Center in the Pennsylvania state championships, finishing second and fifth while starring at Manheim Township Township High School.
Added Laudenslager: "He's just a competitor. He listens. He works hard everyday. He's going to be a four-timer. I've been telling him that every day."
Grossman's opponent tonight, Bartschenfeld, came in under the radar after finishing third in the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago but defeated three seeded grapplers and squandering just six points en route to earning his place in the championship round.
Part of his success is because he drills with 125-pound top seed and defending national champion Mike Fuenffinger -- "You can't ask for a better guy to push you every day," Bartschenfeld said -- while the rest of it is a simple matter of confidence that he could bust through his bracket.
"My coaches really, really helped put that belief in me," the senior said.Of the other four classes outside of 133 that saw top seeds fall, No. 5 seed Cary Palmer of Hunter pulled off the biggest surprise when he squeaked past defending champion and top seed Kaleb Loht of Messiah, who was 37-0 beforehand, via a 3-2 decision.
"It was really exciting going in," said Palmer, who improved to 34-1 with his lone loss coming against fourth-place finisher Nathan Jones of NYU in the NCAA East Regional. "He had a big fan behind him so it gave me some motivation to show him up."
Next up for Palmer is Luther's Drew Van Anrooy (25-2), a transfer from Division I Oregon State who reached the title match by flattening sixth-seeded Nick Steger of Loras in 41 seconds. Palmer has succumbed to Van Anrooy twice in overtime, so he knows what he needs to flip the script in their third meeting.
"I need to stay in better position and get points up early," Palmer said.
A pair of No. 4 seeds picked up 3-1 wins in sudden victory 1 against top seeds as Wartburg's Kenneth Martin (29-3) downed Dan Mirman of John Carroll and Wisconsin-La Crosse's Tyler Schneider (23-5) squaked past Wartburg's Andrew Steiert. The final No. 1 seed fell quickly and decisively when SUNY Cortland's Joe Giaramita (31-1), seeded fourth, pinned Wisconsin-LaCrosse's Joe Giaramita in 2:09.