PISCATAWAY, N.J. – It once again came down to the final match between No. 13 Rutgers wrestling and No. 7 Lehigh Saturday night at the RAC. The dual score was tied, and so too was No. 13 heavyweight Billy Smith (Wantage, N.J.)and No. 14 Max Wessell entering tiebreakers. But Smith had been there before.
The redshirt senior (23-6) reversed Wessell to begin tiebreakers, held the Mountain Hawk off in the next 30 second stanza, and sent Rutgers wrestling home with an 18-15 NWCA National Duals Championship Series win over the Mountain Hawks (13-3, 7-0).
“That’s as big a spot as you’re going to get, against a really good kid who’s having a great year,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “For both of these guys [Smith and Anthony Perrotti] there’s just a bunch of confidence we’re going to win those matches. Looking at the dual meet on paper, there’s eight toss-ups in that match. So every single point was contested all the way through.”
“He’s been in these spots before and he’s been solid there, and Anthony’s [Perrotti] been in those spots before and been solid there.”
RU (16-5, 5-4) closed the 2015-16 dual season with its seventh ranked win of the year and third against a top-10 opponent. To boot, the Scarlet Knights clinched their second consecutive RAC win over their former EIWA rival, doing it again courtesy of a winner-take-all decision from Smith at heavyweight.
“In the grand scheme of things, what does this win mean? It’s huge for our program,” Goodale said. “It’s Lehigh, tremendous tradition, a ton of respect for those guys. There’s chippness, [but] I have all the respect in the world for [head coach] Pat Santoro and that staff. We’re just fighting really, really hard for those guys just like they’re doing. Every point mattered, we knew that. It means a lot to beat Lehigh, there’s no question about it. Now let’s move onto the Big Ten Championships.”
No. 7-ranked redshirt senior Anthony Perrotti (Roseland, N.J.), who secured an 8-5 decision against No. 16 Ryan Preisch (Lehigh) at 165 pounds, was overwhelmed after taking down Lehigh in the final dual of his college career.
“It’s indescribable,” Perrotti said. “It was crazy. Unlike Billy, I do the math. I’m a big student of the sport. I like our odds in some matches here and there. I thought [Nicholas] Gravina could have pulled that one out. [Hayden] Hrymack had beaten that guy before. So I didn’t think it was coming down the Billy … [but] I’ve got nothing but confidence in him. He’s been doing this for five years. He’s really been the backbone of this program at the upper weight.
“I remember my sophomore year he might have won seven matches in a row for us coming down the heavyweight. He’s just got a knack for it. I guess that comes with being a heavyweight and comes with being on a good team. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I couldn’t be more proud of the way we wrestled.”
Overall, Rutgers won six of 10 bouts against the Mountain Hawks, beginning with No. 5 Anthony Ashnault (South Plainfield, N.J.) at 141 pounds. Ashnault (24-2) defeated No. 17 Randy Cruz for the second consecutive meeting, this time by a 9-2 score to make the dual score 8-3.
Prior to the RU win, Lehigh’s No. 13 Darian Cruz (125 Pounds) and Mason Beckman (133 Pounds) each scored major decisions over Sean McCabe (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.) and Josh Patrick (Rector, Pa.), respectively.
But Rutgers rode the momentum of Ashnault’s win over the next four matches, earning victories from 149-174 pounds.
Tyson Dippery (Harrisburg, Pa.) kept it rolling with a 6-0 decision at 149 pounds, and No. 12 Richie Lewis (Toms River, N.J.) gutted out a 12-7 decision against Drew Longo to give Rutgers a 9-8 lead at intermission.
That lead ballooned to 15-8 following an 8-5 decision by Perrotti and 9-2 decision from Phillip Bakuckas (Hammonton, N.J.) at 174 pounds.
Lehigh punched back, with No. 3 Nate Brown fighting off No. 20 Nicholas Gravina (Allednale, N.J.), 3-2, at 184 pounds. The Mountain Hawks took another swing at 197 with a major decision from No. 17 John Bolich over Hayden Hrymack (Point Pleasant, N.J.), setting up a heavyweight showdown with a 15-15 score.
But Smith knew what to expect. He had been there before.
“Whenever you beat a team like Lehigh, it’s more than them being ranked No. 6. Honestly that doesn’t really mean much. But it’s more to the fact that they’re a winning tradition,” said Smith, whose 6-0 decision against Lehigh at the RAC in 2013 sealed Rutgers’ first win over the Mountain Hawks since 1950. “You have teams like that, and they almost look down upon Rutgers … I’m proud to be the foundation and see this program grow in a bigger direction. There’s so much more that needs to be done. This is just the beginning and you’ll see that in two weeks or so.”