EVANSTON, Ill. – Mitch Minotti became the first Lehigh freshman wrestler to win an undergraduate Midlands title as he captured the 149 pound title Monday night as the Mountain Hawks wrapped up action at the 51st Ken Kraft Midlands Championship at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena. Minotti came from behind twice to defeat Eric Grajales of Michigan 5-4 in the tiebreakers, becoming Lehigh's fifth undergraduate Midlands champion while capturing the school's sixth title.
After advancing to the finals with a 2-0 win over Blake Ruolo of George Mason, the No. 6 seed Minotti took on the fifth-seeded Grajales for the title. Grajales opened the scoring with a cradle on the edge for a takedown and built up 1:25 of advantage time before Minotti escaped to make the score 2-1 after one period. In the second, Minotti chose neutral and secured a late takedown to take a 3-2 lead into the third. Grajales chose bottom in the third and escaped to tie the match at 3-3. Minotti got in on a deep shot late in the third but no points were awarded and the match went to sudden victory.
Following a scoreless sudden victory period, Minotti was down for the first 30 second tiebreak period but Grajales managed to ride out. In the second half of the tiebreak Grajales escaped to go in front 4-3 but Minotti grabbed an ankle after a single leg shot and finished the takedown with eight seconds remaining to win 5-4.
"It's a great feeling, especially getting revenge on a guy that beat me last year in this same tournament," Minotti said after his triumph. "The coaches always preach about scoring as many points as you can and scoring late in periods. I knew that's what they were thinking and that's what was going through my head. I just made something work.
"He found a way," added Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. "You have to keep wrestling as long as there's time on the clock. He needed to score quickly and that's what he did."
Lehigh wrestlers have now won titles in three of the last four Midlands Championships as Minotti joined Robert Hamlin (2011) and Zack Rey (2010) as recent Midlands champs.
Minotti was one of four Lehigh wrestlers to place in the top eight in their respective weight classes, along with sophomores Mason Beckman (133) and John Bolich (197) and junior Nathaniel Brown (184), who competed unattached. As a team, Lehigh finished in ninth place with 60.5 points.
Brown was Lehigh's other semifinalist in Monday's morning session but he fell 5-3 in sudden victory to Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock, the eventual champion at 184. The No. 3 seed at 184 Brown wrestled back to defeat post graduate Keegan Mueller, and then dominated Brown's Ophir Bernstein in the third place match, winning by technical fall 17-2 in 7:00.
The No. 9 seed at 197, Bolich scored a first period takedown that proved to be the difference in a 3-2 win over sixth seed Chris Penny of Virginia Tech which guaranteed his first Midlands medal. Following an injury default and a medical forfeit, Bolich found himself wrestling for third place but came up on the short end of a 3-1 decision against Iowa's Nathan Burak and had to settle for fourth.
Beckman placed at 133 for the second straight year, coming in fifth this year after placing fourth last year. He earned a spot in the top eight with a 7-3 decision over Cashe Quiroga of Purdue, then defeated Devon Lotito of Cal Poly to guarantee himself top six. Beckman fell to top seed A.J. Schopp of Edinboro 5-0 in the consolation semifinals in a rematch of the NWCA All-Star Classic exhibition, won by Beckman 5-1.
In the fifth place match, Beckman avenged a semifinal loss to Alan Waters of Missouri with a 5-2 tiebreaker win. Beckman built a 1:10 riding time advantage to force overtime at 1-1 then mustered a pair of escapes in the first half of the tiebreaker (after a Waters injury timeout) and added an insurance takedown in the second half.
Of the five Mountain Hawks who advanced to Monday, only freshman Elliot Riddick failed to place. Riddick dropped a 5-3 sudden victory decision to Iowa's Alex Meyer in what was his fourth overtime match in five Midlands bouts. Riddick opened the scoring with a low double leg takedown late in the first period, but with a late 3-1 lead was taken down in the final 15 seconds of regulation. In the sudden victory period, Meyer countered a Riddick shot for the winning score after just 14 seconds.
"I'm pleased with the finishes we had," Santoro said. "Winning three of our last four was good, but we need more guys in championship finals and more guys wrestling tonight. We saw a lot better fight overall today, but we still have some issues we need to work on when we get back. We need to fight all the time. We can't have these letdowns in these big matches. That's the difference between being an All-American and not being an All-American.
Iowa rolled to the team title with a Midlans record 187.5 points. Northern Iowa's Joe Colon was named both the Art Kraft Champion of Champions and the Dan Gable Outstanding Wrestler.
The Mountain Hawks will return to action on Sunday January 12, when they travel to EIWA rival Cornell for a 2 p.m. dual. The match will be broadcast on WLVR-FM (91.3) and WLVR.org. Lehigh's next home will be Friday January 17 against Navy inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall.