CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. –Duke heavyweight Jacob Kasper started his 2017 with a bang by becoming the first Blue Devil wrestler in program history to take home a Southern Scuffle title. Connor Bass and Mitch Finesilver also landed on the podium, taking sixth and seventh at 174 and 157, respectively.
It marks the first time in program history Duke has placed more than two wrestlers on the podium at the prestigious tournament, while the 13th place finish is the second highest finish behind last season’s 12th-place showing.
Ranked 17th nationally, Kasper defeated Nos. 6, 8 and 11 en route to his third tournament title this season. He is 4-0 against ranked opponents this season and still has just one loss to his name heading into a busy dual season. Bass, meanwhile, has finished in the top six in each of his three tournament outings.
Kasper, already owning win over the nation’s No. 8 wrestler on day one, matched up with 11th-ranked Austin Schafer of Oklahoma State in the semifinals. The Lexington, Ohio native jumped all over the Sooner heavyweight with an 8-1 lead early and never let Schafer get any closer as he rode out the third period en route to a 10-2 major decision and berth in the title bout.
Facing his toughest opponent of the season in Minnesota’s Michael Kroells, Kasper stayed the course to take home top honors. Kasper scored first, taking down Kroells for a 2-0 lead. The Minnesota senior escaped to pull within one, 2-1, after the opening three minutes. The Blue Devil veteran regained the two-point edge with an escape in the second and a 3-1 lead with one period left. He tacked on a pair of back points in the third to ice the upset victory and writing his name in the Duke wrestling records book.
Cole Baumgartner started day two for the Blue Devils in the fifth round of the consolation bracket against No. 7 seed Colby Smith of Appalachian State. Smith grabbed a 4-0 lead on Baumgartner through two periods and did well to defend in the third period as the Blue Devil 133-pounder tried to get him to his back. In the waning seconds of the match, Baumgartner did score two back points, but it was Smith coming away with four unanswered to get the 8-2 victory and advance.
Eighth-seeded Finesilver, up against Stanford’s Paul Fox in the consolation bracket, fell behind 2-0 before escaping to make it 2-1 after three minutes. A quick three points –an escape and takedown – to start the second stanza for the Blue Devil junior put Finesilver up for good. Fox was able to escape to make it 4-3, but Finesilver did what he does best and rode out the third period for the 5-3 decision.
The Colorado native’s tournament came to an end in the following in the next match as he fell to 10th-ranked Jake Short of Minnesota in a narrow 3-2. Tied 2-2 in the third period, Short escaped early in the final period and held off a few late shots from Finesilver for the 3-2 decision. He rebounded in his seventh-place match with a convincing 7-3 decision over Chase Delande of Edinboro. It was Finesilver’s second straight placing at the Southern Scuffle after taking fifth a year ago.
Bass outlasted Andrew Morgan of Campbell in the 157-pound consolation match. After a scoreless first period, the Duke senior scored a reversal in the second period to go up 2-0. An escape from Morgan made it 2-1 and he added another to start the third to make it 2-2 with time ticking down. Bass got to his offense and scored the takedown with under a minute to go to advance with a 4-2 decision.
The excitement continued for Bass in the next round as he upset 17th-ranked Jadaen Bernstein from Navy in overtime for a spot in the consolation semifinals. Trailing 5-1 in the second period, Bass escaped and scored to bring it within one 5-4 heading into the final stanza. The Illinois native easily escaped in the third as both Bernstein and Bass traded shots without a score to head into overtime. Bass went to his offense right away in the sudden victory overtime and got the takedown for the 7-5 victory. In the consolation semifinal, No. 14 Ryan Preisch jumped out to an early lead en route to the technical fall, sending Bass into the fifth-place match.
In the final match of the night for the Blue Devils, Bass faced his toughest foe in third-ranked Casey Kent. The Penn senior scored early and never looked back as he captured fifth place with a 12-2 major decision. Bass scored a pair of ranked wins on his way to the podium, building momentum heading into the long dual season.
The Blue Devils open the 2017 portion of their dual schedule Jan. 8 with a pair of matches on Long Island. Duke will wrestle Hofstra and LIU Post in Brookville, N.Y. The Blue Devils’ matches are set for 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively. Duke’s first home dual in 2017 will come Jan. 17 against a tough Appalachian State squad. The Blue Devils will look to avenge their loss to the Mountaineers a year ago.