March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Redshirt freshman seals victory in Rutgers’ home opener

Phil Bakuckus, at 174 pounds, understood the Rutgers wrestling team’s fate came down to his performance against Boston University’s Colin Saunders.

Whether he pulled through was another story.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all honestly,” Bakuckus said. “… I didn’t think it was going to come down to me, but that happens, so I just had to keep my mind clear and wrestle.”

The redshirt freshman wasted no time in securing the Scarlet Knights’ (2-0) 16-15 victory yesterday afternoon at the College Ave, Gym, collecting one take down and one reversal to defeat Saunders, 7-0.

Bakuckus registered his takedown with a minute remaining in the first period, grabbing Saunders’ legs and driving him into the mat.

That was all Bakuckus needed, as the Hammonton, N.J., native dominated the rest of the match, collecting more than three minutes of riding time during the three periods.

“The kid’s a workhorse,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “He sticks to a game plan and did a good job. There’s a lot of pressure there, and he handled it. It’s a hard thing to do. He’s a freshman who hasn’t been put in that spot yet, and he handled it.”

But Goodale said the win shouldn’t have come down to Bakuckus, and at one point it looked as if the Terriers (0-1) would escape with a comeback victory.

Down 13-6 after senior 133-pounder Vincent Dellefave registered a 5-4 decision, Boston rattled off four straight wins to take a 15-13 lead.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Goodale said. “We just didn’t look really sharp and looked tired.”

One grappler who did not look tired was sophomore heavyweight Billy Smith.

Smith delivered a 4-1 victory against Kevin Innis, who at No. 14 according to InterMat, defeated Smith at last year’s NCAA Championships.

Tied 1-1 in the middle of the third period, Smith took a shot at Innis’ right leg and corralled him to the ground as more than 1,300 fans in attendance roared “two!”

“He was leaving himself open so when he was tired in the third period, I knew I could get to his legs and get a high crotch,” Smith said. “Once I got to it, I was going to finish. I wasn’t going to let him go.”

Rutgers did not let go of a victory against the Terriers, who early this year announced their wrestling program will be cut from varsity competition.

Luckily for the Knights, they had Bakuckus to secure a victory against a team who is competing to save their program’s existence.

“Boston came in here and wanted to win,” Bakuckus said. “Obviously, their program is being cut and that’s all I saw them tweeting about, but a lot of [our] kids wrestled good.”

For updates on the Rutgers wrestling team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @Targum Sports.

By Bradly Derechailo

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