BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
The Cal State Bakersfield wrestling team overcame a slow start Monday night to put itself in position to win its first dual in more than a month.
But CSUB came up short on its final five matches, and lost 27-12 to North Dakota State at the Icardo Center.
After losing the first bout of the night via pin, Jose Mendoza (133), Ian Nickell (141), Dalton Kelley (149) and Spencer Hill (157) each won by decision to give CSUB a 12-6 lead.
From there the Bison, led by two nationally ranked wrestlers, dominated the rest of the way.
Overall, North Dakota State edged the 'Runners 6-4 in number of wins. However, the big difference was the Bison tallied nine bonus points thanks to two pins, one technical fall, and one major decision. With all of its victories coming by decision, CSUB didn't score any bonus points.
"Overall we did good," CSUB coach Mike Mendoza said. "Obviously, when you look at a dual meet like this and every time you wrestle you just see all the things that you need to work on. But I think for some of these guys it was a big improvement and a good step forward as they're getting for the post-season."
The 'Runners, coming off a grueling month of December in which they did nothing but wrestle in tournaments, were without their top wrestler Bryce Hammond. The redshirt sophomore, ranked No. 15 in the nation at 174 pounds by Intermat, suffered a knee strain during the Midlands Championships late last month.
With Hammond out of the picture, and considering that the Bison thumped Cal Poly 35-6 on Sunday while CSUB lost 25-6 to the Mustangs earlier in the season, North Dakota State appeared to be in position to handle the 'Runners without much trouble.
That proved not to be the case.
Down 6-0 in the team score following Hunter Weber's second period pin of Matt Correa at 125 pounds, Mendoza jumped out to a 6-0 lead en route to a 9-4 decision over Justin LaValle.
Nickell, ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 at 141 pounds, kept things rolling with an exciting, 7-4, comeback victory against Clay Cathey.
Nickell trailed 3-0 after the first two periods. Early in the third period he made it 2-1 with an escape. The redshirt sophomore from BHS got a takedown with 1:11 remaining to tie things. But 10 seconds later Cathey regained the lead, 4-3, when Nickell was called for stalling a second time.
Nickell didn't let the penalty point faze him as he flipped Cathey over on his back with 34 seconds remaining and was eventually awarded three near-fall points.
"I think I really just came out too slow the first two periods and didn't get my match going" Nickell said. "And then the third period, when my back was kind of against the wall I just got things going and was fortunate enough to pull off the win there at the end."
Arguably the most exciting match of the night was between Kelley and Tyler Diamond at 149 pounds.
Trailing 6-5, Kelley scored a reversal with four seconds remaining in the match. But Diamond had enough riding time built up when the third period buzzer sounded to earn a point and send the bout to overtime.
Just 25 seconds into the OT Kelley scored a takedown to win 9-7.
"It was a match I really needed," Kelley said. "It's always good to win in front of the home crowd, especially my senior year. I've had a lot of tough matches so far and so it was good to get an individual win. I wish we would have got the team win."
A short time later at 157 pounds Hill got an early first-period takedown and then held on to beat Nick Olejnik, 3-1.
Even though he didn't win, CSUB also got a good performance from David Meza. Facing, Steven Monk, the No. 4 ranked wrestler in the nation at 165 pounds, Meza scored a reversal with four seconds left in the third period to lose by decision instead of major decision.
North Dakota State's other national ranked wrestler, Hayden Zillmer (No. 16 at 174 pounds) claimed a 17-0 technical fall win over Jesus Ambriz, Hammond's replacement.
Next up for the 'Runners is a pair of home dual meets. CSUB will host Boise State on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. and then Oregon State at 2 p.m. on Sunday.