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Duke wrestling's Mitch Finesilver wins ACC title

<p>Mitch Finesilver took home the ACC title this weekend.</p>

Mitch Finesilver took home the ACC title this weekend.

After his fourth trip to the ACC championship finals in as many years, Mitch Finesilver finally came home with a first-place medal. The redshirt senior, wrestling in the penultimate tournament of his stellar season and collegiate career, turned in a marquee performance against a formidable 149-pound field. 

The captain’s championship run was the highlight of an overall strong showing from Duke. The Blue Devils tied the program record for NCAA qualifiers, with five wrestlers earning bids to the national tournament. Redshirt freshman Benjamin Anderson (157) and three other Finesilver brothers—sophomore Josh (141), senior Zach (165) and sophomore Matt (174)—will be joining Mitch in Pittsburgh March 21-23. Duke scored 39 total points and finished in fifth place as a team.

Mitch, the No. 1 seed, received a first-round bye and kicked off his tournament in the semifinals. There, he netted a 4-0 victory over Ryan Blees of Virginia Tech. While not lighting up the scoreboard as he often does, the senior secured the shutout and showed off his superior mat wrestling with a tenacious third-period rideout—those top skills will likely prove crucial in the later rounds of NCAA’s, where a single riding time point could be the difference maker against elite competition.

The 149-pound title bout was more of the same for the Blue Devil, as he again refused to allow any offensive points in a dominant victory against North Carolina's freshman phenom Austin O’ Connor. Mitch scored a takedown halfway through the first period and did not look back, cruising to a 5-1 decision win and his first ACC title.

“I thought Mitch really separated himself tonight,” head coach Glen Lanham said. “It was in his hands and he took it. I wanted him to get this so bad. I know what it means to him to get the title and how much work he puts in and what he’s done throughout the year and the summers and all the sacrifices, it’s great to see him get over the hump after being in the finals four times.”

Mitch and O’ Connor—ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the nation, respectively—had each lost to the other before. In fact, the finals match marked the fourth meeting between the ACC titans this season. Mitch took the decisive 3-1 series lead with his title-clinching win, but both wrestlers are legitimate high All-American threats and could very well meet again in Pittsburgh. The third 149-pound qualifier from the ACC—All-American Justin Oliver of N.C. State—is ranked No. 8 nationally and will be hunting for his second career trip to the NCAA podium. 

149 is one of the deepest weights in the ACC, but almost every weight class has multiple All-American contenders—that top-notch competition makes Duke’s overall performance all the more impressive.

Like his brother, No. 2-seeded Matt received a bye into the semifinals to start the day. Again like his brother, Matt recorded a strong decision victory to punch his ticket to the finals. In his first match of the day, the sophomore Finesilver was pitted against N.C. State’s Daniel Bullard. Following a razor thin 8-7 win against Bullard in the regular season dual, Matt was able to widen the gap by two points this time around. Tied 1-1 in the third period, the Blue Devil recorded a late takedown and riding time point to close out a 4-1 victory.

Unfortunately, Matt was unable to continue his momentum into the finals, as he dropped a 7-3 decision to national No. 7 David McFadden of Virginia Tech.

Josh and Zach completed the Finesilver qualifying sweep by each finishing third, winning three matches apiece. Both were victorious in their first round matches before falling to top-seeded foes in the semifinals.

After dropping a dizzying 14-11 decision to No. 1-seeded Jamal Morris of N.C. State, Josh turned right back around and threw himself into yet another wild match. This time, the sophomore found himself on the winning side of a 17-11 affair against Virginia's Sam Krivus—the electrifying bout featured seven total takedowns and plenty of other points scored. Josh did not stop his offensive output in the consolation finals, as he scored two more takedowns in a 9-5 win against North Carolina's AC Headlee to claim third.

Zach’s consolation campaign was more dominant, as he recorded a pair of major decisions to hammer home a third place finish at his last ACC tournament. The senior was in top form as he followed an 11-3 drubbing of Pittsburgh's Tommy O’ Brien with an emphatic 12-0 shutout of Virginia's Cam Coy.

Anderson, wrestling in his first collegiate postseason tournament, only needed one win to qualify for nationals. That one win, however, was as thrilling as they come. Already behind 10-5 in the first period, Anderson was at risk of being pinned by Jake Keating of Virginia. After fighting for the escape, the Blue Devil decided it was time to flip the script and put Keating in danger. He did just that, forcing Keating to his back and securing the fall with 1:01 remaining in the opening period. With his comeback pin, the Utah-native secured a trip to the NCAA championships in his first season competing for Duke.

The NCAA will announce additional at-large bids on Tuesday and release official brackets soon after that. The NCAA championships will be held at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh from March 21-23. 

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