DES MOINES, Iowa — There seems to be a trend developing with Mitchell Port.
The Edinboro sophomore gets better with every match he wrestles.
The latter portion of his evolution from a talented prospect out of Bellefonte High School to one of the country’s most dangerous 141-pounders for the Fighting Scots unfolded in front of a national audience on Friday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. There, before a packed house and national television cameras, Port stepped onto the mat and handed the most dominant man in his weight class his first loss in nearly a year.
Port, the No. 4 seed in the 141-pound NCAA Wrestling Championship bracket, knocked highly-favored Hunter Stieber of Ohio State off his perch atop the 141-pound field with a 7-6 win. Port’s performance, fueled by an aggressive approach from the top position, sent him into the 141-pound finals, where he’ll face Okahoma’s Kendrick Maple (32-0) on Friday night.
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“Basically, I went into it knowing it was going to be rough, tough on my feet,” Port said. “Last time we wrestled, (Stieber) took me down multiple times. He beat me by five. This time I knew I couldn’t give up that many takedowns and I had to get some takedowns myself.”
And he did just that.
Port snatched up Stieber’s legs for the opening takedown but the Buckeye sophomore escaped quickly and built a 3-2 lead with a takedown of his own. Stieber was down to start the second and Port went to work on top. Although Stieber finally escaped with less than a minute to go and notched another takedown, Port’s strong ride would benefit him in the long run.
In the second, Stieber escaped to start the bout and notched another takedown That would be the last attack he’d land, however. Port earned a quick third-period escape then notched a takedown of his own. Stieber couldn’t wrap him up again and Port earned the riding time point with 1:09 on top total.
So, that’s what Port does for an encore.
Earlier in the day, he made history for his former high school. With his 13-5 major decision over fifth-seeded Evan Henderson of UNC, Port became Bellefonte’s first All-American in 51 years since Ron Pifer accomplished the same feat.
“My brother had coached Mitchell in high school,” Edinboro coach Tim Flynn said. “We knew what we got.”
Now Port has got a chance to bring the Fighting Scots their first individual championship since Jarrod King did so in 2009. He’ll have to beat Maple, another undefeated grappler to do it.
“He beat me earlier in the year. It was the same kind of thing, I got taken down a bunch of times early in the match. I ended up coming back but I lost by, I want to say, three,” Port said of his last meeting with Maple. “I’ve got to protect my legs, move my feet, get some takedowns of my own. One of the biggest things I’ve got to do is hold him down, get some riding time. You see it won that match there. Nine seconds was the difference of going into overtime and getting my hand raised.”
Other finals set
Iowa’s Tony Ramos will face Ohio State’s Logan Stieber at 133 pounds for that championship.
Ramos, the No. 2 seed, suffered only one loss on the regular season and that came to Stieber in the Big Ten finals in overtime. Meanwhile, Stieber, the top seed, is unbeaten at 27-0.
At 149 pounds, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver will face Boise State’s Jason Chamberlain.
Iowa’s Derek St. John and Northwestern’s Jason Welch will battle for the 157-pound title while Michael McMullan of Northwestern and Tony Nelson of Minnesota will tangle for the heavyweight title.
Expected contenders go deep
The semifinals featured just two unseeded wrestlers as most top seeds advanced into what is dubbed “The Blood Round” on Friday night.
Even then, those two unseeded grapplers — Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt (149) and Northern Iowa’s David Bonin (157) — did not make it out of the semis.
As for expected top contenders? Top Four seeds advanced to the semis in three different weight classes — 133, 165 and 184 pounds. Meanwhile, No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will square off for titles at 133, 149, 157, 165 and 197 pounds.
During the 174-pound semifinal bouts, a section of overhead lights went out inside Wells Fargo Center.
“I thought it was very strange,” Penn State’s Matt Brown said. “I didn’t know what that was about. The ref said keep wrestling, so we kept wrestling.”
Brown wasn’t affected by the brief power outage that lasted for the duration of the 174- and 184-pound semifinals. By the time 197-pounders stepped onto the mat, the lights had come back on.
The NCAA released a statement through Global Spectrum Operations on the brief power outage after Session 4 was completed.
“Safety is our number one priority for the student-athletes and fans. We are in communication with Mid-American Energy to determine the cause. We know that it was not isolated to the Wells Fargo Center,” the statement read.
Global Spectrum Operations said in the statement that “there were no safety concerns that would affect the attendees or the wrestlers” and attributed the length of the outage to a cool-down and warm-up period required by the lighting system.