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Missouri’s Cox advances to championship match

Two Tigers remain alive in final day of tournament.

March 24, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY – Words were hard to find for Missouri’s junior captain on Friday night.

Top-seeded Drake Houdashelt was upset by fifth-seeded Jason Tsirtsis from Northwestern in overtime of the semifinal round at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

Houdashelt has not lost since December.

“Just gotta go out and get third,” he said of his plans for the rest of the tournament.

It was Houdashelt’s second consecutive loss in the semifinals. He placed sixth last year.

Going into the tournament, Missouri coach Brian Smith said the goal was three weigh-ins.

“These young kids are going out and battle every match and find out where we are,” Smith said. “The biggest goal is weighing in three times. If you do that, you are an All-American or going for the national title.”

Houdashelt and freshman J’den Cox will get that third weigh-in on Saturday after beating their respective opponents in the quarterfinals.

Houdashelt, who put up two major decisions in earlier rounds, had a tougher time finding points against Michigan’s Eric Grajales to reach the semifinals. He survived, winning 3-1, to become a two-time All-American.

He wouldn’t be so lucky in the next round when he faced Tsirtsis, the Big 10 Conference Champion.

In the clash of will and strength, only one could survive. Houdashelt and Tsirtsis battled, taking the match to overtime. For the second straight year, Houdashelt fell in the semis, losing to Tsirtsis 2-1. The tie-breaking point came off a last second escape from Tsirtsis.

In the 197 weight class, Cox became the youngest Tiger to earn All-American honors after topping Duke’s Conner Hartmann in a 5-1 win. Up next for Cox was Virginia Tech’s Chris Penny.

With a 4-1 decision over Penny, Cox became the first Missouri wrestler to win a semifinal match since 2010.

“I'm not going to lie, it was pretty nerve-racking,” Cox said. “It was my first time being here. I was like, Oh, going after my leg. And he's strong. He's a big dude.”

Cox will face Ohio State’s Nick Heflin on Saturday night.

“It's a great feat, but we've got a bigger one to conquer tomorrow,” Cox said.

Making up for an early exit, freshman Joey Lavallee won by technical fall in the opening round of the wrestle backs. To become an All-American, Lavallee needed to beat top-seeded James Green from Nebraska. Green was pinned earlier in the day and would return to the mat with a vengeance.

Lavallee lost by a 12-2 major decision and was eliminated from the tournament.

Redshirt freshman Lavion Mayes, clinging to his last life in the tournament, beat Lehigh’s Luke Gardner. But he couldn’t hold on forever, losing his next match 6-2.

Mayes was two wins away from earning All-American honors.

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