3-time champ Starocci tops ex-champ Lewis to reach semis at NCAA wrestling championships

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks will have a chance to make some wrestling history for Penn State.

The two Nittany Lions passed their semifinal tests at the NCAA championships on Friday night, giving them a chance to join an exclusive club of four-time winners on Saturday night. Starocci needed an escape and riding time in the third period to beat Michigan's Shane Griffith at 174 pounds, while Brooks took care of Missouri's Rocky Elam at 197 to set up his long-awaited showdown with North Carolina State's Trent Hidlay.

“You kind of envision yourself making history every single day,” said Starocci, who will face Rocco Welsh of Ohio State. “When you are actually living it, it's as if it's not so real, because when you're in your head and you're thinking about it, it almost feels so real."

There have only been five wrestlers to win four NCAA titles, including current Nittany Lions coach Cael Sanderson and Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell, who completed the feat a year ago. But never has a pair of teammates accomplished it, let alone on the same night.

“It’s something we love to do,” Starocci said, "and it’s something that for me, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world than right here.”

There may be a pair of four-time champs Saturday night but there won't be a three-time winner at 165 pounds.

Keegan O'Toole, the two-time defending champ from Missouri, scored a takedown of David Carr to take the lead late in the third period of their match. But the No. 3 seed from Iowa State, who lost to the top-seeded O'Toole in the final a year ago and again at the Big 12 championships, scored a takedown of his own with 10 seconds remaining for an 8-6 victory and a spot in the final.

“I’ve beaten him a few times, he’s beat me a few times,” Carr said. “That match meant a lot."

Carr will face Mitchell Mesenbrink, the Nittany Lions' redshirt freshman, who romped past Iowa's Mike Caliendo in the semifinals.

It was a big night for Penn State, which along with Starocci, Brooks and Mesenbrink got Beau Bartlett through at 141 pounds, Levi Haines at 157 and unbeaten Greg Kerkvliet at 285, where the runner-up a year ago will face Michigan's Lucas Davison for the title.

The Nittany Lions already have 148 points, wrapping up a third straight team championship. The Wolverines are a distant second with 64.5.

Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa, taking advantage of Brooks’ move up to 197 pounds, continued a dominant run at 184 with a victory over Trey Munoz of Oregon State. He will face No. 3 seed Dustin Plott of Oklahoma State on Saturday night.

Drake Ayala extended Iowa's incredible streak of at least one finalist to 34 years when the third-seeded sophomore defeated Eric Barnett of Wisconsin. Ayala will face Richard Figueroa of Arizona State, who upset top-seeded Braeden Davis earlier in the tournament.

There was some controversy at 133 pounds, where Oklahoma State's Daton Fix was trying to reach the final for the fourth time and perhaps claim the NCAA title that has long eluded him. The record five-time Big 12 champ was tied 1-all with Michigan's Dylan Ragusin through overtime when he was called for a second stalling, only for the officials to review the sequence and take the point away.

Ragusin was then called for locking his hands, and Fix escaped the semifinals with his second straight tiebreaker victory.

Next up: Vito Arujau of Cornell, the newly crowned world champion, who beat Fix a year ago on the way to the final.

“Obviously didn't go my way the last time, and I've been thinking about it for a whole year now and get that match back,” said Fix, who was booed by many inside T-Mobile Center. “What better stage to do it on than one on Saturday night?”

There was no such drama at 141 pounds, where No. 1 seed Jesse Mendez of Ohio State and the second-seeded Bartlett advanced to their highly anticipated rubber match. The two split this season but Mendez triumphed in the final of the Big Ten championships.

The expected at 141 pounds was followed by the unexpected at 149, where fourth-seeded Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech squeezed out a 1-0 win over No. 1 seed Ridge Lovett of Nebraska, and sixth-seeded Austin Gomez of Michigan beat No. 2 seed Kyle Parco of Arizona State.

Lovett was trying to become the Huskers' first NCAA champion since 2011, when Jordan Burroughs won the second of his titles.

Bryce Andonian nearly pulled off an even bigger upset when the No. 12 seed at 157 pounds led the No. 1-seeded Haines late in the third period. But the undefeated Penn State standout rallied to force overtime, where he got Andonian onto his back for the pin.

It was an emphatic finish for Haines, who lost a close championship match to Austin O'Connor a year ago.

“Never got to wrestle Jacori Teemer before, so I look forward to it,” Haines said. “He’s a tough competitor, and doesn’t matter if it’s the national finals or we were wrestling at some random location on some random day. I just really love to compete and I’m excited to be able to do that.”

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