Just Like Old Times: Luke Pletcher, Micky Phillippi Meet In NCAA Quarters

PITTSBURGH – There are no secrets here, not in a quarterfinal between two former practice partners who grew up a few miles from one another in Westmoreland County.

Not for a pair of three-time PIAA champions who have faced each other so many times through the years that neither can give an accurate estimate on the number of times they’ve wrestled.

And not with a spot in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on the line.

So Greater Latrobe grad Luke Pletcher wasn’t exactly excited to be facing his friendly rival, Micky Phillippi from Derry Area, at PPG Paints Arena on Friday morning.

“I’d much rather wrestle one of the other seven guys, but we’re here,” Pletcher said after his 3-1 victory gave him a spot in the semifinals and guaranteed All-America status for the second straight year. “We both want a national title, and he’s in my way and I’m in his way. Eventually, we both would have to meet.”


Reversal of Fortune

Phillippi, the No. 4 seed from Pitt, beat Pletcher, an Ohio State Buckeye who is seeded fifth, 2-1 at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournament. That match followed the blueprint of so many of Phillippi’s victories this season: Keep it a low-scoring affair and try to win it on riding time.

Pletcher made sure this one didn’t, as he scored a first-period takedown that set the tone.

“Almost any time you wrestle someone who’s good on top and a scrambler, they want to keep it close, get on top and ride you out and him get away,” Pletcher said. “His defense is really freaking good. It’s hard to score on him.”

Against someone like Phillippi, the takedown – which came courtesy of a single-leg and trip – wasn’t a gimme.

“Even when I tripped him straight back, he was still rolling,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t think they were going to give me two until I caught that other leg. That’s his style, and he’s really good at it. It’s difficult some times.”

The takedown came with 25 seconds remaining, and Pletcher rode Phillippi out for the remainder of the period. While he’s not known as an especially strong rider, Pletcher also held Phillippi down for 48 seconds to start the second, which played a big role in the match.

“It’s big, especially with someone I knew was going to try to ride me,” Pletcher said. “If you can get over a minute before you take bottom, he either had to try and ride the whole time and turn me or let me go. He couldn’t win on riding time. That was a key difference between Vegas and now.”

That’s how it played out. Trailing 2-1 entering the third, Phillippi erased the riding-time advantage, then cut Pletcher, but going on the offensive from his feet isn’t his strong suit.


The Road Ahead

The road gets tougher for Pletcher, as he’ll face top-seeded Daton Fix of Oklahoma State in the semifinals Friday night. Fix is 35-1 this season with his lone loss coming a few miles down the road, to Phillippi in a dual at Fitzgerald Fieldhouse.

The crowd at PPG features an interesting dichotomy in the crowd. Many are on his side because he grew up in the region, but Penn State fans are reluctant to cheer on an Ohio State wrestler. Not that Pletcher’s worried about any of that.

“I’ve wrestled in some pretty hostile environments, being that it’s already my third year in college. I’ve been at Carver, I’ve been at Rec Hall,” he said. “It doesn’t get any worse than that. This is nothing. This is awesome.”


Bouncing Back

A few minutes after his gut-wrenching loss, Phillippi agreed to talk to media members, which is far from the norm in wrestling.

The affable Pitt wrestler smiled through the pain as he fielded questions.

“I’ll feel good later,” he said. “I’m still not happy after this match. I’m not happy, because I wanted to be a national champion. That was my goal. But I’ll be back. I’ll be ready tonight.

He’ll face Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young in a blood-round match Friday night, and said he’ll be able to move on mentally.

“You just have to do it,” Phillippi said. “Our sport is different than other sports. You lose, but you have to get back up and get back on it in this tournament. It’s just something you learn over the years. It’s like getting off the ground and pulling yourself up.”


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