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Camacho advances in NCAA tournament; two Sacred Heart wrestlers eliminated

North Carolina State’s Jakob Camacho won twice on Thursday to earn a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals at 125 pounds. (Photo courtesy N.C. State Wrestling)

Falling behind or wrestling in a close match didn’t rattle North Carolina State’s Jakob Camacho Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Division I wrestling championships.

For most of the year, Camacho has dominated on the mat. But a close match or two didn’t bother the Danbury High graduate. The sixth-seeded Camacho (10-2) won both of his bouts at 125 pounds to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.

Camacho will face No. 3 seed Brandon Courtney of Arizona State (13-0) when wrestling resumes Friday morning at 11 a.m. at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Sacred Heart had two wrestlers in the tournament for the first time since 2007 but Newtown’s Joe Accousti (184) and Nick Palumbo (157) were each eliminated after a pair of losses.

Both Pioneer wrestlers began their collegiate careers at other schools. Accousti spent two years wrestling for Appalachian State while Palumbo wrestled one year for Buffalo. But both finally earned a trip to the NCAA tournament in the red and grey of the Pioneers.

“It was great that they were here. We had some tough draws and some tough competition but that is what you get at the national tournament,” Sacred Heart coach John Clark said. “We had hoped to do better but they’re both coming back next year.”

Accousti lost his NCAA tournament debut when No. 32 seed Jha’Quan Anderson of Gardner-Webb won with a takedown with 17 seconds remaining on overtime, 3-1. Accousti (4-6) took a 1-0 lead with an escape early in the second period but Anderson tied it with an escape of his own midway through the third period.

Each had a few opportunities for a takedown in regulation but couldn’t finish. In OT, Anderson did finish. He was able to grab a single leg, drove hard like a linebacker and lifted Accousti off the mat. Up the air, Accousti could do little to defend and Anderson brought him down to the mat for the match-winning takedown.

In the consolation round, Pitt’s Gregg Harvey got three takedowns on Accousti in an 8-0 decision.

Palumbo (5-5) found wrestling a pair of tall and lanky opponents challenging. In his first match against 5-foot-10 Kendall Coleman of Purdue, the Boilermaker wrestler was able to use his long arms to fend off takedown attempts from Palumbo and get inside for his takedown attempts.

Coleman, who was seeded ninth at 157, had three takedowns in the first period and a 6-3 lead after three minutes. Palumbo escaped early in the second period to cut the lead to two but Coleman was able to get in a solid double-leg takedown, tackle Palumbo and drive him off the mat for another takedown and a commanding 8-4 lead. Coleman won, 15-5.

In his second match, Palumbo had a rematch of his EIWA semifinal win over Parker Kropman of Drexel. In his EIWA victory, Palumbo had a key takedown and four-point near fall to take command early.

This time, it was Kropman with the first takedown after a scramble with 12 seconds left in the first period. An escape and a takedown with 23 seconds left in the second period extended Kropman’s lead to 5-0.

Palumbo cut the lead to 5-2 with a second escape with 1:30 left in the bout and got a takedown with 52 seconds remaining to trim the lead to one, 5-4. Palumbo left Kropman go to try and get a match-tying takedown but couldn’t get it in an 8-5 defeat.

“It was a good experience for the kids,” Clark said. “Hopefully, they can build off this and see that it is attainable to do better here if they work hard in the off season.”

Camacho was down 4-0 early in his first round bout against American’s Gage Curry after giving up a takedown and a two-point near fall. But Camacho got two takedowns in the final 1:17 of the first period, including a takedown with one second left in the period to tie the match at 5-5.

In the second period, Camacho had two takedowns and a four-point near fall and in the third period, he had another three takedowns in a 21-9 victory.

In his second round match with No. 11 Dylan Ragusin of Michigan, Camacho led 4-3 after two periods and extended his lead to 7-2 early in the third period.

That was before a mad scramble on the mat left Ragusin down by one with 59 seconds remaining. In the span of about four seconds, Ragusin got a reversal on Camacho, who immediately reversed him.

Ragusin got another reversal and exposed Camacho’s back before Camacho escaped to cut the lead to one, 9-8. After a lengthy video review, the match resumed and Camacho was able to stay out of trouble for the remainder of the bout. He picked up a point for 1:02 in riding time to earn a 10-8 decision.

This was Camacho’s first NCAA tournament experience. He qualified for the 2020 tournament but it was cancelled as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the country.

After the first session, North Carolina State was in fourth place after winning eight of their first nine matches. Camacho was one of four Wolfpack wrestlers to earn bonus points. Iowa led after one session with Penn State second and Missouri third.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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