TULSA, Okla. – Even Keith Gavin is surprised sometimes at how difficult it can be to take down Cole Matthews.
The third seed at 141 pounds in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships showed off that ability in the second round on Thursday night, as he held on for a tight 1-0 victory. He’ll be joined in Friday morning’s quarterfinal round by teammate Nino Bonaccorsi, the top seed at 197.
“That was wild,” Gavin said of the victory over Cael Happel, in which Matthews fought off a pair of deep leg attacks. “For a one-point match, it got crazy in the third period. But, he’s a really good competitor. He’s probably going to see that tomorrow, too.”
Matthews will face sixth-seeded Beau Bartlett of Penn State on Friday.
Happel essentially chose to wrestle the entire match on his feet. After a scoreless first period, he took neutral in the second, then released Matthews one second into the third.
“I think his plan was to get me tired and take me down once, but if you don’t choose bottom on me, you really have to take me down twice,” Matthews said, meaning that even if he gets taken down, a second escape ties the bout.
Gavin said that Matthews’ ability to remain calm is a big reason he’s closing in on a second consecutive All-American performance.
“He doesn’t panic, ever,” Gavin said. “It’s a trait that he had, but he’s matured a lot since being here and getting a little bit older.”
Matthews certainly didn’t panic in the third, when it looked like Happel was in deep on a double-leg but Matthews somehow avoided giving up the takedown.
“It was pretty deep, but whether you’re that deep on me or just trying to beat me in a handfight, I’m not going to stop wrestling through those positions,” he said.
Matthews beat Clarion’s Seth Koleno 4-1 in the first round. He said it takes a match to get adjusted to everything in the national tournament.
“After the third period of the first match, your legs get a little shaky and your stomach starts to rumble a little bit, but after you get that first match over with and from there on, you feel pretty good,” he said.
While Matthews wrestled the low-scoring close matches that have become his trademark, Bonaccorsi played to his strengths as well, scoring a combined 17 points in his two victories.
“When I wrestle how I wrestle, I can put up points and I can score on anyone and beat anyone,” the top seed said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing a little bit, me being open and trying to wrestle my match. When I get into my groove, there’s no one that can beat me.”
Gavin was impressed by Bonaccorsi’s 10-1 victory over North Carolina’s Max Shaw and his 7-1 win over North Dakota State’s Owen Pentz.
“He wrestled really good today,” Gavin said. “Obviously, it gets tougher tomorrow. I thought he finished shots really well. He’s moving guys, his handfight looks good. He looks good.”
Bonaccorsi will face Big Ten champion Silas Allred of Nebraska in the quarterfinal round. Allred beat returning national champion Max Dean of Penn State for the second time in three weeks.
Micky Phillippi, Holden Heller and Reece Heller each went 1-1 on the day. Phillippi beat Oklahoma’s Wyatt Henson in the first round before losing by fall to Minnesota’s Aaron Nagao in the evening session. Phillippi will face Iowa’s Brody Teske in the consolation round Friday.
Holden Heller beat Penn State’s Alex Facundo in the first round but lost 5-3 to Michigan State’s Caleb Fish in the second round. He’ll take on West Virginia’s Peyton Hall on Friday.
Reece Heller was pinned by Lehigh’s Tate Samuelson in a first-round match that he probably could have won but rebounded to knock off WVU’s Anthony Carman in the consolation bracket. Rutgers’ Brian Soldano awaits in a consolation bout that should feature plenty of scoring.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow,” Gavin said. “It’s going to be challenging, but we’ll be ready for it.”
Luca Augustine lost a pair of close bouts at 174 pounds and was eliminated.