Minnesota wrestling fights back to defeat Wisconsin

Junior Chris Pfarr won the dual’s final and deciding match with an upset.

Gophers senior Michael Kroells takes on Connor Medbery in the Gophers match against the Badgers at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Kroells lost to Medbery, 3-2.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers senior Michael Kroells takes on Connor Medbery in the Gophers match against the Badgers at the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Kroells lost to Medbery, 3-2.

Kyle Steinberg

For redshirt junior Chris Pfarr, no moment is too big when he doesn’t know the score.

Pfarr’s comeback 7-4 win over No. 20 Ryan Christensen at 174 pounds lifted No. 12 Minnesota (4-2, 3-1 Big Ten) to a hard-fought 18-15 victory over No. 21 Wisconsin (3-3, 1-3 Big Ten) at the Sports Pavilion Sunday.

“I knew it was close, and I knew I had to win,” Pfarr said. “I didn’t have that pressure because I knew I just had to go up there and do the best I could.”

The Gophers needed Pfarr to earn any type of decision to beat the Badgers with the dual tied at 15 heading into the final match.

It didn’t look good early on, as Pfarr conceded three points in the first period. The tide turned when he scored a takedown late in the second, which lit up the Pavilion crowd and sent the match to the third frame tied at three.

Pfarr dominated the third frame, scoring twice more to win the match 7-4, and give the Gophers the dual.

Early on, neither team gained an edge and split the first four matches with two regular decisions each. Head coach Brandon Eggum said he was not surprised, however.

“When you look at the bout cards, you see a lot of matches that are very close rankings-wise and can go either way,” Eggum said. “We knew we had to win the close ones.”

The first inkling of a momentum shift came just before the break, when Minnesota’s No. 16 Mitch McKee pinned Wisconsin’s freshman Eli Stickley just 1:20 into the match. The pin got the crowd on its feet and sent the Gophers into the break with a six-point advantage.

The pin was the first for the freshman in a dual meet during his college career.

“Throughout this season, one thing I’ve realized about myself is that I wrestle better when I come out, and I’m ready to go right away,” McKee said.

It looked like that strategy would pay dividends for the Gophers when No. 13 Tommy Thorn capitalized on the momentum after the break with a win and put Minnesota up 15-6 with four matches remaining.

Yet, the Badgers didn’t go away, as they put together a run of three consecutive victories to even the dual at 15 with 2016 NCAA Qualifier Ryan Christensen set to wrestle in the final match.

That’s where Pfarr — a Le Sueur, Minnesota native — stopped the bleeding and gave the Gophers a victory over a major rival.

“It’s huge,” Pfarr said of the rivalry. “Tons of fans come up here from [my] hometown because [it’s] only an hour away. It’s always huge and always a good feeling to get that win, especially in a dramatic fashion like tonight.”

Looming next for Minnesota is a meet with fifth-ranked Nebraska Friday night. Eggum said he knows it will be a challenge for the Gophers.

“Every week in the Big Ten is going to be a grueling duel,” he said. “Nebraska’s a great team.”