BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Anthony Ashnault must listen to a heavy dose of rap artist DJ Khaled because all he does is win.
The top-seeded 141-pound Rutgers wrestler defeated seventh-seeded Javier Gasca III of Michigan State 15-2 (major decision) in convincing fashion to earn his second straight Big Ten championship inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University on Sunday. Ashnault (29-3) has won 15 consecutive matches and is now the program’s second two-time conference champion.
“I wanted to be dominant and show the country I’m the man to mess with. I want to be at the top of podium at the end of the NCAA Tournament and performances like this one and playing at a pace like that is what it’s going to take,” Ashnault said in his post-match interview with Big Ten Network. “In my head I’m just thinking score points and don’t let up off the gas pedal and I feel like I did that well today.”
Ashnault jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the first period with a takedown on the edge about 35 seconds into the first period, and then became aggressive scoring a four-point near-fall 20 seconds later. Gasca III (30-7) earned a point from an escape.
The score would remain the same until the third period when Gasca picked up an escape point moments after Ashnault took control once again earning another takedown and four-point near-fall via the cradle to make it 12-2.
Then the Scarlet Knights’ grappler recorded his second takedown of the period with 10 seconds to go. He was awarded another point with 2:36 minutes of riding time to make it 15-2.
After it was over, he pointed to his family and let out a big smile.
(Watch his championship match below)
Ashnault earned a first-round bye before beating eighth-seeded Cole Martin (Wisconsin) by way of major decision 9-1 in the Championship Quarterfinals and fifth-seeded Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) 5-1 in the Championship Semifinals to advance to the title match.
Pletcher and Ashnault met just a few weeks ago with Ashnault dominating to a 10-1 victory, but this time the redshirt junior escaped from the bottom, got two takedowns, and played defense for the win.
"He found a way to win. Very solid, hard to score on, very stingy," said Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale of Ashnault’s bouts on Saturday according to ScarletKnights.com. "He's getting into some scrambles which I don't like too much because some guys are getting to his legs, but these guys are really good so these battles are going to be going on for the rest of the weekend. He's stingy and he's wrestling through all positions. Anthony is being Anthony and that's good."
Ashnault, a South Plainfield native who went 170-0 with four state titles in his high school career, had two other former South Plainfield High School (SPHS) Tigers compete at the Big Ten championships alongside of him in a Rutgers singlet -- 133-pounder Scott DelVecchio and 165-pounder Dylan Painton.
Ashnault and DelVecchio punched their tickets with automatic qualifying bids to the national tournament as DelVecchio finished in seventh place at his weight beating 12th-seeded Austin Eicher of Michigan State by injury default. DelVecchio earned his second spot to the NCAA’s (also went in 2015) by topping 10th-seeded Eli Stickley (Wisconsin) 5-1 in the Consolation Second Round.
Unfortunately for Painton, who earned the opportunity to compete in the conference tournament by beating teammate Anthony Pafumi in a one-bout wrestle-off in practice last week, was eliminated in Session I losing both his first two matches to eighth-seeded Drew Hughes (Michigan State) and Johnny Sebastian (Northwestern). Painton has one year of eligibility remaining, but chose to give that up and was honored recently on Senior Day.
A two-time All-American, Ashnault will strive for his third honor at the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis from March 16-18. After finishing in fourth last year and eighth in 2015 at the NCAA’s, the laser-focused Ashnault won’t be satisfied until he is No. 1.
“Just staying mentally strong in a lot of key moments like before match,” Ashnault said when asked what will be critical aspect going into the national tournament. “I just have to think positive in my pre-match thoughts and block all negativity out and just have the same approach in every match. You have to think like it’s practice and just go out there and let it fly.”
He also wants the state university of New Jersey to be a powerhouse on the mat as well
“I came to Rutgers to make a big change," Ashnault said to NJ.com. "I could've been at these schools that are finishing Top 5 in the country every year. In the end, my decision was to come to Rutgers and part of my journey is to make Rutgers into a powerhouse.
"That's what drives me everyday. It's not just my individual goals. It's to make Rutgers a better program overall. Even though it's me individually winning, I've got an 'R' on my chest. I'm representing Rutgers, New Jersey and South Plainfield. It means a lot to me."
It is only a matter of time that Ashnault is put on the Rutgers Athletics Mount Rushmore.
As of this writing, the Scarlet Knights will have sent six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships.
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