Tony Ramos and Derek St. John had to chase, claw and battle for every point they put on the scoreboard Friday night.
They came up with just enough to give Iowa fans something to applaud Friday at the NCAA Championships and somebody to root for tonight inside Wells Fargo Arena.
Ramos stalked Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff for the majority of their 10-minute bout before the junior scored a takedown midway through the second overtime period to win a 6-4 decision in the 133-pound semifinals.
Points came at even more of a premium for St. John, who used three escapes to edge Oklahoma State freshman Alex Dieringer 3-2 in the second tiebreaker at 157.
“These points are hard for us,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “Every takedown’s hard. That’s the hard way to win and they won the hard way.”
The hardest thing for the Hawkeyes to swallow, though, may have been the sight of two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough’s illustrious career coming to a close with two straight defeats.
The three-time NCAA finalist dropped a pair of overtime decisions Friday, losing to Cornell freshman Nahshon Garrett in the quarterfinals and to North Dakota State’s Trent Sprenkle in the round of 12.
“It’s hard,” Ramos said. “It’s something I’m trying hard not to think about right now because I feel for him. I’ve known him for five years and I know he’s not OK right now. But people aren’t going to remember him for this tournament.
“They’re going to remember him for his three national finals and two national championships. Yeah, he had a rough senior year. But they’re going to remember the good things.”
McDonough compiled a 122-9 career record. Five of those losses came this season when he clearly wasn’t the McDonough Iowa fans grew accustomed to watching during his first three years with the Hawkeyes.
Underneath a hooded sweatshirt, the senior appeared to have an ice pack or some type of wrap between his shoulder and neck Friday night when he made his way through a back tunnel of the arena. More evident was McDonough’s inability to win positions he dominated throughout the first three years of his career.
McDonough’s takedown tries used to be nearly automatic once he locked two hands around a leg. He failed to convert several of those opportunities against Sprenkle.
“We’ve got to mend him,” Brands said when asked if there was an underlying factor that kept McDonough from being McDonough.
Ramos and St. John took the championship round torch McDonough carried the past three seasons and secured reservations for the Hawkeyes in the finals.
Ramos brushed off an early takedown and a 4-2 deficit against Graff.
“He had a takedown,” Ramos said. “So what? If you want to beat me you’ve got to take me down or three times … because I’m going to keep coming.”
Ramos continually pressured Graff as fans booed the Badger’s retreats off the mat.
“I heard ’em,” said Ramos, who will wrestle Ohio State defending NCAA champion Logan Stieber in tonight’s title bout. “You can hear their frustration. … You’ve got to stay calm and don’t let the ref get into the match. Don’t let the crowd, don’t let the opponent get in your head.”
St. John clinched his second straight finals appearance when he rode Dieringer out in his turn on top during the second tiebreaker session and then fought off a shot in the closing seconds. He’ll face Northwestern’s Jason Welch, the No. 1 seed, for the title at 157.
“We’ve had a bunch of run-ins,” said St. John, who is 5-0 against Welch. “I’m assuming there is going to be more energy and more of an exclamation point than any other times we’ve met.”