Wrestling: McDonough Gets Back To Big Ten Final; Iowa 3rd After Day One
By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Matt McDonough's day went from rough to tough.
The University of Iowa senior 125-pounder survived and then thrived to reach familiar territory.
Top-seeded McDonough pinned University of Michigan's Sean Boyle in the semifinals of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at Assembly Hall. He advanced to the Big Ten finals for the fourth time, attempting to capture his third conference crown.
His performance helped the Hawkeyes to third place with 109 points after the first day, trailing leader Penn State by 14 and Minnesota, which is second with 112 1/5. Iowa earned nine NCAA berths, qualifying all but the 149-pound division.
McDonough's day was a roller coaster, which has been common this season. He trailed Northwestern's Dom Malone 4-1 in his opening match before earning a 5-4 victory. He rebounded with the first-period fall against the fourth-seeded Boyle.
"Every match is a battle," McDonough said. "You don't want those close matches. You have to expect to battle for seven minutes or more, if need be.
"This morning I didn't have the match I wanted to have, but what is the match you want to have? You go out there and do the very best you can and that's all you got."
The semifinal was a little closer to the desired match. McDonough attempted a single-leg takedown when Boyle tried to scramble. McDonough (20-2) caught him on his back and decked him in 2:46.
"It was a scramble position," McDonough said. "I guess you can say I feel comfortable there. You want to be hitting smart holds. They didn't call the (takedown), but I was looking for the back points."
The fall was McDonough's 40th career pin in college, but his first since Dec. 6 against Lehigh. It could be exactly what he needed to propel him into the finals. He is trying to become the 19th Hawkeye to win three conference titles and the first since Doug Schwab and T.J. Williams both won three from 1999-2001.
"It gives me a chance to get myself prepared mentally," McDonough said. "Obviously, it motivates you. You go out and pin a guy that's the best thing you can do. It's going to excite you to get to the next one."
The next one is a familiar foe and the only wrestler to beat him more than once. He will face Illinois' Jesse Delgado (19-3) in the finals. Delgado advanced, beating Penn State's second-seeded Nico Megaludis, 6-3, in the semifinals. He defeated McDonough 9-4 in a dual last month and beat him in a dual last season. They are 2-2 against each other.
"I'm going to be in the position I know win a match like that," McDonough said. "It's the same for every opponent of that caliber. You can't let them get to your legs and lock their hands. You can't give up back points (or) wrestler their pace."
Tony Ramos avenged a loss and looks to repeat that feat in the finals. Ramos scored a takedown with a little more than 20 seconds left to beat Wisconsin's Tyler Graff, 3-1, at 133. He remained perfect, improving to 26-0.
The memory of his loss to Graff at the Big Ten tournament two years ago was still fresh in Ramos' mind. He was anxious for this chance for revenge.
"I thought about it for two years," Ramos said. "I win that match two years ago and we're Big Ten champs. We lost by one point, so it was something I wasn't going to let happen again."
Graff was in on a late shot and Ramos countered, turning it into his own winning move to reach the conference finals for the second straight year.
"He got in deep," Ramos said. "I was fighting and fighting ... I got my hips back and went around behind."
Ramos kept his composure during Graff's late threat. He remained focused and came out on top.
"You have to stay calm in every position," said Ramos, noting that he has worked with a sports psychologist since he was young. "A lot of guys would have panicked there. That's one thing I've noticed with my wrestling and I think has brought me over the edge is even in bad situations you can't panic."
He will face top-ranked and defending Big Ten and NCAA champion Logan Stieber (21-0) in the finals. Stieber beat him three times last year, including a heated 5-2 decision in the 133 finals.
"I'm real excited for that one," Ramos said. "Can't wait to get that one going."
Mark Ballweg continued the Hawkeyes roll, avenging his most recent loss. He suffered a disappointing major decision loss to Minnesota's second-seeded Nick Dardanes at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals Feb. 23.
Ballweg (21-4) scored a takedown in sudden victory overtime to beat Dardanes, 3-1, to reach the 141 championship against top-seeded Hunter Stieber of Ohio State.
"He's a really aggressive guy and he's a good competitor," said Ballweg, who fended off a takedown at the end of regulation to force overtime. "I was ready this time."
Iowa coach Tom Brands shared a positive comment before pointing out more work lies ahead for Ballweg, who lost to Hunter Stieber, 6-4, in January.
"Good job, Ballweg," Brands said about the win. "Another match to go."
Ballweg was held out of the following dual after the previous loss to Dardanes. He had lost three straight. The senior recharged his batteries and seems to be rejuvenated.
"You make a little adjustments and figure out what you have to change to make a difference. I think we did alright," said Ballweg, motioning to his head to signal an improved mentality. "I took a few days off, regrouped and came back motivated."
The Hawkeyes had four finalists. Second-seeded Mike Evans improved to 19-3 with a 6-0 win over Illinois' Jordan Blanton in the 174-pound semifinals. He has Penn State's Matt Brown in the finals.
The Hawks went 4-5 in the semifinal round, suffering an upset at 157 when No. 1 Derek St. John lost a one-point decision to Nebraska's fourth-seeded James Green. Nick Moore (165), Ethen Lofthouse (184), Nathan Burak (197) and heavyweight Bobby Telford lost in the semifinals. All were lower seeds and Burak and Telford lost by two and one point, respectively, to Minnesota foes.
It came after a strong start powered to an early team lead. The Hawkeyes won 13 of their first 14 matches, posting a 9-0 mark in the quarterfinals. They won 11 straight matches at one point and 14 straight on the championship side of the bracket.
The task gets harder as the tournament progresses.
"We have to be ready to battle," Brands said. "It gets tougher if you're not going to wrestle. If you wrestle, it can get easier with effort. It's never easy, but you can make it easier on yourself with good effort."
The tournament continues Sunday at 11:30 a.m. with the finals set for 1:30 p.m. and will televised live on BTN.