Rutgers rebounds from last weekend with 2 wins in final Big Ten dual meets of season
Even in a season defined by multiple wins over ranked opponents and rising to as high as No. 6 in the national rankings, the Rutgers wrestling team has still had its shortcomings in the 2015-2016 season.
But to their credit, each time the Scarlet Knights have faltered this season, they have followed up with impressive performances.
Two days after the Knights lost their Big Ten opener 29-6 at the hands of then-No. 2 Iowa on Dec. 10, they came right back and defeated then-No. 4 Nebraska, 17-16.
After then-No. 6 Rutgers dropped its first dual of the season to an unranked opponent against Minnesota on Jan. 17, the Knights took their next two duals by a combined score of 58-9 over Maryland and Princeton.
On the heels of its most recent setback — dropping consecutive duals for the first time this season in two tough home losses against Wisconsin and then-No. 8 Michigan last weekend — Rutgers has bounced back strong yet again.
On a weekend Indiana road swing to close out regular season Big Ten competition, the No. 14 Knights (15-5, 5-4) began with a 30-9 rout of Indiana (6-6, 3-3) and, two days later, fended off a late push by No. 23 Purdue (8-7, 3-6) to complete their sixth win against a ranked opponent this season with a 24-15 win.
"Really, really resilient," said head coach Scott Goodale on the Knights bouncing back with two convincing wins. "I thought we wrestled hard in a lot of spots. The reason you get into these matches is your highly ranked guys verse their highly ranked guys. All weekend long we did a good job of beating those guys, so I was excited about that ... It was definitely good to see them bounce back … Right now, our horses are getting better and that's important."
Rutgers took eight of 10 individual bouts against the Hoosiers while picking up a total of six bonus points along the way.
Senior No. 8 165-pounder Anthony Perrotti started off the dual with a 10-0 major decision over Bryce Martin to give Rutgers a 4-0 lead.
After junior Phillip Bakcukas nearly pulled off an upset over No. 11 Nate Jackson at 174 pounds, the Knights ripped off three consecutive wins — capped off by a pin fall from senior No. 13 heavyweight Billy Smith over Garrett Goldman — to take a 16-3 lead at intermission.
Indiana came right out of intermission and put a large dent into Rutgers’ lead with a pin at 125 pounds from No. 20 Elijah Oliver over sophomore Josh Patrick to cut the deficit to 16-9.
But that wound up being the last win the Hoosiers would collect on the night.
Rutgers ended the dual with two major decisions from redshirt freshman No. 19 133-pounder Anthony Giraldo and junior No. 12 157-pounder Richie Lewis and two decisions from redshirt freshman 141-pounder Nicholas Ottaviano and sophomore 149-pounder Tyson Dippery to collect 14 straight points and secure its win over Indiana.
Ottaviano, filling in for the resting sophomore No. 5 Anthony Ashnault, picked up the first Big Ten dual win of his career.
The Knights carried the momentum from the end of their dual against Indiana into West Lafayette.
After the Boilermakers took the first bout by way of a Luke Welch 3-1 decision win over Anthony Giraldo in overtime, Rutgers won five consecutive matches — highlighted by a major decision from Ashnault, a tech fall from Dippery and a pin from Perrotti over No. 7 Chad Welch in the matchup of the day — to build a 21-3 lead through six matches.
The Boilermakers wouldn’t go away that easy, coming back with a decision and pin in the next two bouts to bring the score to 21-12 with two matches left.
In a tight match through the first two periods at heavyweight, Billy Smith pulled away in the third for a 13-8 decision win, giving Rutgers a 12-point lead and clinching a sweep of its two-game road trip. In the two duals overall, Rutgers won by a combined score of 54-24 while collecting bonus points in half of their individual victories.
Leading up to their Indiana duals, Anthony Perrotti said the Knights had to get back to wrestling aggressively and they did just that.
"Coach Goodale said anytime you get a Big Ten win, it's a good thing. We came out and kinda dominated both matches," Perotti said. "The Purdue match came a little close. We gave up a little bonus there, that's something we're trying to avoid. But everyone was trying to score points, attacking and everyone looks real good."
After finishing 2-7 during their inaugural season in the Big Ten, the Knights close out conference duals this year with an improved record on the plus side of .500. Rutgers wasn't too far from finishing with an even better record, as 3 of 4 losses came down to the final few individual bouts.
Even though they just missed out on finishing with an even better record, the Knights leave dual conference competition content with the improvement they’ve made in just one year and focused on keeping their momentum going into their final two duals next weekends and into championship season in March.
"Coming from last year, we really wanted to make improvements, and going above .500 really says a lot from where our team came from and where we're still going," Ashnault said. "But this weekend was really important for the postseason cause we wanna get a lot of momentum here ... This weekend was huge, especially for some individual standpoints and getting people on the right tracks. We just wrestled really hard, everyone put up a good effort out there, and we ended up with the results that we wanted."