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WEST LIBERTY — Pat Pecora always loves coming back to West Liberty, his alma mater. Wednesday night was doubly special as the 42-year University of Pitt-Johnstown head wrestling coach watched his Mountain Cats claw the host Hilltoppers, 38-0, inside the ASRC.
The match was the season-opener for both squads as UP-J entered ranked No. 6 nationally in the NCAA Division II preseason poll. West Liberty was 19th.
“I never predict anything. West Liberty has always had a good program, so you have to be ready,” the 1975 West Liberty graduate said. “I just take one match at a time, and that’s what we did tonight.
“We had a couple of guys banged up, but our guys did a good job,” he added. “I was a little concerned but once we got off to a good start I was a lot more at ease.”
For West Liberty head coach Mitch Smith, it’s back to the drawing board.
“We didn’t bring it tonight … in any match. We came out flat in every match,” he said. “Taking on the No. 6 team in the country we’ve got to come out and fight better, especially from the bottom. We got handled in the bottom position, so we’ve got to do a better job on the mats.”
The Mountain Cats started strong and never let up in claiming all 10 bouts. They won half-a-dozen matches by decision; two by major decision (8-or-more point difference); one by pin and one by forfeit, that coming at 141 pounds to returning national runnerup Joey Alessandro.
Former Indian Creek standout Miles Mazik was blanked 9-0 at 149 pounds by returning national champion Chris Eddins, while former Oak Glen wrestler Josh Cornell dropped a 6-5 nod at 157 pounds when UP-J’s Gage Thomas recorded a takedown with 34 seconds remaining.
“He was in the match, but he’s got to get to his offense more,” Smith said of Cornell, the lone senior in the Hilltoppers lineup.
A pin at 165 pounds by returning All-American Devin Austin bumped the count to 26-0 and also clinched the dual.
In a matchup of nationally ranked wrestlers, the Mountain Cats’ Levi Niebauer edged Logan Kemp, 3-2. Niebauer, a two-time national qualifier who is ranked fifth, scored an escape to start the third period and then held off Kemp, who entered No. 7.
Pitt-Johnstown heavyweight Allan Beattie decisioned Ron D’Amico to secure the whitewash.
The Hilltoppers competed without returning All-American Darius Bunch, who is taking a red-shirt this season. He finished fourth at 133 pounds last winter.
“It’s always nice to come back to West Liberty. I have a lot of respect for Mitch, the program and what he is trying to do here,” Pecora, who was inducted into the West Liberty Hall of Fame in 1998, added. “I’ve got a lot of good memories here.”
He added another Wednesday night.
Pecora’s 582 dual meet wins rank second among all coaches in all collegiate divisions.
The Mountain Cats return to the Ohio Valley Sunday for a clash with fifth-ranked Wheeling Jesuit University. Match time is 4 p.m. in the Alma Grace McDonough Center.