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OKLAHOMA CITY – Minnesota has the numbers to dethrone three-time defending national wrestling titlist Penn State. Oklahoma State is in the mix in the NCAA championships, too.
Penn State holds the slimmest of leads heading into the final day of action. The Nittany Lions have 91 points after Friday's matches, followed by Minnesota with 90.5 and Oklahoma State with 87.5.
Penn State and Minnesota have two finalists and seven total wrestlers remaining.
Minnesota's Tony Nelson, the top seed at the 285-pound weight class, will face North Carolina State's Nick Gwiazdowski in the final. Nelson knows what is at stake for himself and the team.
"We got two guys in the finals," Nelson said. "Oklahoma State, they've got four. So us winning probably both those finals is going to be crucial for us to have a chance to win the team title."
Oklahoma State has four finalists, but just one other wrestler remaining. The Cowboys were far back, but they scraped back into contention with a strong performance in the evening session. Now, a 35th national title isn't out of the question.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity," Oklahoma State coach John Smith said.
Penn State's David Taylor advanced to the finals for the fourth time. He defeated North Dakota State's Steven Monk 12-5 in the 165-pound semifinals. He will face Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell in the final, one of just two finals that match wrestlers on the top three teams.
Minnesota's Dylan Ness will face Oklahoma State's Alex Dieringer in the 157-pound final.
Caldwell is 0-3 in his career against Taylor, but he feels he has improved each time.
"I've felt like I've really closed the gap," Caldwell said. "And since the last time wrestling in February, I think I've even made even bigger strides and look forward to wrestling (Saturday) night."
Penn State's Ed Ruth also advanced to the finals. The two-time national champion defeated Cornell's Gabriel Dean 5-3 in the 184-pound semifinals to avenge his only loss of the season.
Ruth will face No. 1 seed Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland, who remained unbeaten with a win over Old Dominion's Jack Dechow, in the final.
"Every time I've met up with Sheptock, it's always been a decision match," Ruth said. "He's a tough opponent. He knows his way around the mat."
After Friday's morning session, Penn State led with 61 points, followed by Minnesota with 59, and Oklahoma State with 56 heading into the evening session.
Minnesota moved into the lead at night. Oklahoma State led for a while, too. Eventually, Penn State got back to the top with its depth.
The best story lines on Friday came from the lower weights.
At 133, Iowa's Tony Ramos reached the final by taking down Edinboro's A.J. Schopp in the final minute of the third period to win 2-0. The top seed in that class, Joe Colon of Northern Iowa, lost his semifinal 6-4 to Wisconsin's Tyler Graff.
At 141, two-time national champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State advanced to the title match by beating Penn State's Zain Retherford 7-3 in the semifinals. Retherford's only two losses of the season were his two most recent matches against Stieber — the other was in the Big Ten tournament final.
In the 141 quarterfinals, No. 1 seed Mitchell Port of Edinboro was 28-0 before losing 5-3 to North Carolina's Evan Henderson. Port made it through wrestlebacks and remains alive for a third-place finish. He will face Retherford on Saturday morning.
Three of the top four seeds at 149 failed to reach the semifinals. No. 2 seed Nick Dardanes of Minnesota was eliminated from the tournament with a loss to Edinboro's David Habat. No. 11 seed Joshua Kindig of Oklahoma State reached the final with a win over No. 15 seed Mitchell Minotti of Lehigh. No. 1 seed Drake Houdashelt of Missouri lost in the semifinals when Jason Tsirtsis escaped in the closing seconds of overtime for a 2-1 victory.
The stunner of the day came in the 157 class quarterfinals, when Ness, seeded ninth, pinned top seed James Green of Nebraska in 3:36.
It wasn't quite the upset it appeared to be on the seeding line, though. Ness, a junior, placed second at nationals as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore. Ness reached the finals by defeating Ian Miller of Kent State in the semifinals.
The No. 2 seed at 157, Iowa's Derek St. John, also lost in the quarterfinals. Brian Realbuto of Cornell beat St. John 11-4. Oklahoma State's Dieringer beat Realbuto to advance to the finals.