By Sam Louwagie
DES MOINES — Tom Brands just wanted to know his team’s leader was going to be okay.
“I told him I’d leave him alone if he’d look at me,” Brands said of senior Matt McDonough. “So he looked at me, and I walked away. Hard to do. He’s been a staple for this program, very reliable. It’s not the way to go out. And it’s going to hurt. We’re going to have to help him over that.”
McDonough’s great Iowa career came to an inglorious end in Wells Fargo Arena on Friday when he lost a 3-1 decision in overtime to North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle. The loss knocked him out of the tournament, meaning he will finish, for the first time in his career, without All-American honors.
It was perhaps the most disappointing result in a difficult second day for the Hawkeyes at the NCAA tournament. Nick Moore, Mark Ballweg and Nathan Burak all lost matches to fall short of All-American honors. And heavyweight Bobby Telford was forced to injury forfeit a second match, ending his tournament early.
Iowa’s four All-Americans — Tony Ramos, Derek St. John, Mike Evans and Ethen Lofthouse — will be the fewest the program has had since the 2006-’07 season. The Hawkeyes sit in fourth place, mathematically eliminated from the team title race and 20 points behind third-place Minnesota.
“Every point, every takedown, everything is very hard for us in this tournament,” Brands said. “We’ve had to eke everything out, and that’s not a good way to win.”
The two Hawkeyes who did reach the finals won exactly that way.
Tony Ramos found himself behind for a good portion of the match. Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff picked up the first takedown on Ramos, and then scored a second-period reversal to go up 4-2. But the Iowa junior stayed calm and earned an escape in the third. Graff backed off for much of the final period and was penalized a point for stalling, sending the match to overtime. After several tiebreak periods, Ramos countered a shot and scored to win.
He said staying calm through the early deficits and Graff’s backing away was key to getting the win.
“You can’t get frustrated,” Ramos said. “If you do that, you’re letting other things into your wrestling. I just worried about scoring, about moving my feet and my hands and getting heavy pressure. He was breathing hard.”
Derek St. John’s semifinal victory was even tighter. He traded escapes with Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer in regulation and again in overtime. After escaping in the second overtime, he kept Dieringer from scoring a winning takedown and advanced with a 3-2 decision.
“It kind of felt like I was chasing a lot of the match,” St. John said. “He was backing up quite a bit… I never finished a takedown to win that match, so I don’t — I needed to get a takedown to get an exclamation point on that match.”
Brands said while Ramos and St. John “won the hard way,” he praised them both for wrestling smart, poised matches.
“Both guys showed a lot of poise,” he said. “When you’re chasing a guy to the edge, and you’re poised like Ramos was, there’s no wiggle room. You saw what happened in the overtime. Very smart wrestling, so I give him credit. And St. John too.”