Duke wrestling shined bright on the big stage under the lights of Madison Square Garden.
Looking to put 2014 behind them with a flourish, the Blue Devils took the third annual Grapple at the Garden by storm Sunday, defeating Northern Iowa, George Mason and Maryland in dominating fashion.
“It was awesome. I felt like the guys really wrestled well. [We had] really good teams out in front of us,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “What better way to finish the year out than to come up to Madison Square Garden and go 3-0.”
The Blue Devils (4-1) opened the day on a high note by recording six victories and defeating Northern Iowa 21-16. Although the Panthers (3-3) got off to a quick 6-0 start in the 125-pound matchup, Duke powered back to capture the victory.
Both Bailey Jack at 133 and Brandon Gambucci at 141 captured consecutive victories for the Blue Devils to even the score. Jack—a freshman—rallied from a 4-3 deficit heading into the third period on a late takedown to inch ahead of Northern Iowa’s Leighton Gaul for a 7-5 victory. In Gambucci’s match, an early takedown provided the spark for his dominating 5-1 win. It was his first dual victory of the year.
Despite falling behind with a loss at 149, redshirt senior captain Immanuel Kerr-Brown set the tone for the rest of the dual with a 7-2 victory at 157. Although Kerr-Brown trailed 2-0 early, he scored seven straight points to even the score 9-9.
“Immanuel Kerr-Brown has been steady all year long,” Lanham said. “He was big in a lot of matches.”
Following the 157-pound victory, Duke was awarded six points at 165 by forfeit that gave the team the lead for good. Although sophomore Curt Mass won at 174 for the Panthers, Jacob Kasper and No. 5 Conner Hartmann clinched the Duke win with back-to-back decision victories. After wrestling unattached throughout the fall, Hartmann—a redshirt junior—notched his 48th career victory in his return to the mat for the Blue Devils with a 6-1 triumph at 197.
“We suffered through a couple of matches without Conner,” Lanham said. “Just having him in the lineup, you can look at guy and tell that he’s going to get a sure win or a draw, or he’s going to get three points or six points or a major…I am very excited. We couldn’t have done it without him in the lineup today.”
The George Mason Patriots (4-4) were up next for the Blue Devils. Although it was a tight match early, the Blue Devils were able to pull away late for a strong 24-9 victory.
With neither team able to capture back-to-back wins in the first six matchups, the score was knotted 9-9 heading into the 174-pound grapple. A dominating 14-5 major decision—which featured three takedowns in the final 90 seconds by redshirt junior Trey Adamson against George Mason freshman Daniel Mika—put the Blue Devils in the driver’s seat.
They never looked back.
In the very next match, Kasper grabbed his second victory of the day in the 184-pound weight class. The sophomore jumped out to an 8-0 lead and provided another major decision victory for Duke that catapulted the team ahead 17-9.
The Blue Devils would not settle for just two consecutive major decisions, however.
At 197, Hartmann dominated his second match back in Duke blue with a 10-0 performance to put four more points on the board. With the match out of reach, redshirt junior Brendan Walsh would finish off the dual with poise. Walsh scored three more points with his 2-1 double overtime victory in the 285-pound weight class—the tightest match of the dual—to make it 15 straight points for Duke.
“We teach them not to be satisfied,” Lanham said. “If you can get the decision, you can get the major. If you can get the major, get the fall.”
The final dual of the day would find the Blue Devils lined up across the mat against former ACC foe Maryland (4-7). Looking for their first victory over the Terrapins since 2005, Duke came away with another 24-9 victory to finish its undefeated day at Madison Square Garden.
Facing an early 9-3 deficit after the 149-pound matchup, Duke would roar back following a decisive 7-3 victory at 157 by Kerr-Brown. The captain moved to 3-0 on the day with the win and provided the turning point once again for the Blue Devils at the end of the front half of the lineup.
Duke captured two more victories at 165 and 174 that would move the score to 12-9, but the key to the dual occurred at 184. In his third match of the day, Kasper kept his winning streak alive with a strong 20-5 technical fall that added five more points for Duke, stretching the lead to 17-9.
Conner Hartmann looked strong in his final outing as well, remaining undefeated at 11-0 on the year by way of a 3-0 win that sealed the dual for the Blue Devils. Brendan Walsh’s final 9-1 major decision was icing on the cake, providing an exclamation point to a dominating day on the mat.
“Going into the Southern Scuffle—winning three tough duals and everybody competing hard—it’s a good way to close out the first half of the season,” Lanham said.
After a successful finish to the 2014 campaign the Blue Devils will take off for the holidays before traveling to Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan. 1 to compete in the Southern Scuffle for their first competition of 2015. They will open ACC competition Jan. 7 at N.C. State at 7 p.m.
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