What a day the Huskers had to start the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.
Out of its 10 wrestlers, No. 16 Nebraska will have five of them in Saturday morning’s semifinal round. The Huskers sit in third in the team race but have the most semifinalists of any team.
Of course there are Nebraska’s two favorites to make it to the finals in No. 3 Peyton Robb and No. 3 Mikey Labriola. Robb dominated Friday with three tech-fall wins at 157 pounds, including a 15-0 dismantling of No. 23 Peyten Kellar of Ohio in the quarters. Labriola also went 3-0 at 174, picking up his 100th career win in the process, a 9-2 decision over Ohio’s Sal Perrine in the quarters.
Then it came down to Nebraska’s young hammers putting on a show. All three redshirt freshmen — Brocky Hardy at 141, Lenny Pinto at 184, and Silas Allred at 197 — used big upsets to get themselves into the semis.
Ranked No. 17 in the country, Hardy went out and only had to step foot on the mat for two minutes and 30 seconds. After a first-round bye, Hardy pinned No. 20 Jesse Vasquez of Arizona State for the second time this season, this time in 1:51. In the quarterfinal round, Hardy went out and made a statement as he took down and pinned No. 9 Cole Mattin of Michigan in just 39 seconds. Hardy blasted right through the 1-seed to spoil the party.
Pinto is currently unranked, but I expect that to change soon. In the first round, Pinto was in the middle of a back-and-forth match with No. 7 Jonathan Loew of Cornell until Loew injured his shoulder when Pinto took him down in the second period. Pinto earned the win via injury default. He then beat Purdue’s Ben Vanadia 16-6 by major decision.
In the quarters though, Pinto really stunned the wrestling world a little bit. After a scoreless first period against No. 6 Trey Munoz of Oregon State, Pinto fell behind 3-1 in the third period. But the youngster didn’t panic as he scored a takedown after a minutes-long scramble on the mat between these two. Munoz went up 4-3 with an escape with 15 seconds left in the match, and Pinto used an underhook and a trip to secure the takedown and the major upset with four seconds left, winning the match 5-4.
Allred showed on Friday just why head coach Mark Manning is so excited about him. He pinned his first two opponents, both in the first period. He then moved on to the quarters to face All-American No. 12 Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State. Allred trailed 1-0 going into the third period, but he scored a quick escape and two takedowns in the final frame to earn a 5-2 upset victory.
Saturday’s Semifinal Opponents
141 - No. 17 Brock Hardy vs. No. 6 Ryan Jack (NC State)
157 - No. 3 Peyton Robb vs. No. 12 Ed Scott (NC State)
174 - No. 3 Mikey Labriola vs. No. 5 Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley)
184 - Lenny Pinto vs. No. 2 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa)
197 - No. 19 Silas Allred vs. No. 9 Isaac Trumble (NC State)
At 125 pounds, Nebraska saw senior Liam Cronin return to action. He won his first match by major decision before losing a 12-2 major to No. 19 Caleb Smith of Appalachian State. Cronin then went on a tear through the back side of the bracket, winning three matches and advancing to Saturday’s Consolation Round of 4. He won one match by pinfall in just 40 seconds and also beat No. 21 Eddie Ventresca of Virginia Tech 7-3.
Also back from being dinged up is Bubba Wilson at 165 pounds. Being unseeded, Wilson was matched up against 1-seed Carson Kharchla of Ohio State in the first round. Ranked No. 6 in the country, Kharchla beat Wilson 8-2 to start the day.
Wilson then started an incredible run through the consolation bracket. He has won four straight, including a 3-1 decision over No. 18 Tony Negron of Arizona State. In a weird twist of fate, he’ll face Kharchla again to start Saturday’s consolation action.
At heavyweight, Nebraska had Cale Davidson. He went 2-2 on the day and did not place as he took losses to No. 1 Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State and No. 18 Grady Griess of Navy. Davidson is now 5-8 on the year.
Dayne Morton wrestled at 149 pounds, going 1-2 on the day. He started with a loss to No. 3 Jonathan Millner of Appalachian State before beating Edinboro’s Jacob Pail 12-4 by major. Morton lost his next match, ending his tournament. Morton is now 2-6 on the season.
At 133, Nebraska’s No. 17 Boo Dryden disappointed as he lost two straight matches and was eliminated. He’s now 5-3 on the year.