Ramos suffers bitter defeat, St. John escapes with NCAA title for Hawkeye wrestlers

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MARCH 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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DES MOINES — It’s safe to say that’s not exactly how Derek St. John drew it up.

However, Iowa’s newest NCAA wrestling champion has always been at his best when he seems in the most trouble.

St. John was on his back in the third period against Northwestern’s top-seeded Jason Welch and came perilously close to giving up near-fall points that would have broken a 0-0 tie; even after he got off his back, picked up a penalty point after Welch illegally locked hands, and was able to earn an escape, the Iowa junior gave up a takedown to tie the match again.

“That’s just part of the game,” St. John said. “You’ve got to stay cool as a cucumber. When I went to my back there, it was a good burst of energy on his part, and he caught me off guard a little bit. You just keep wrestling.

“Don’t bail out just because you’re getting in a little bit of trouble.”

He managed to escape one more time with 37 seconds remaining and hung on to win 3-2 and claim the 80th individual title in program history. St. John, who typically wears the same expressionless face win or lose, cracked a slight smile and pumped his fists.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been working the last four years for, and I finally, finally got it. Just unbelievable.”

St. John’s title helped ease the sting of a bitter disappointment earlier in the title round when Tony Ramos fell against Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.

Less than an hour before St. John took the mat, associate head coach Terry Brands stormed into the tunnels of Wells Fargo Arena, screaming at the top of his lungs. Brands was angry about a controversial call in Ramos’ match, when the Iowa junior appeared to have Stieber on his back for a few seconds after takedown.

The officials didn’t give him near-fall points. Head coach Tom Brands, who watched from the stands, sprinted past arena officials onto the mat to challenge the call. But after several minutes of video review, referees confirmed the call.

Ramos went on to lose, 7-4.

“Things could’ve been different. That’s up to the ref’s decision,” Ramos said. “But I shouldn’t let it come down to that … Yeah, I’m upset, but I felt like I wrestled a hard match.”

Stieber said he knew Ramos was close to scoring near-fall points but felt the video review was enough to end doubts about the call.

“I don’t really think the match was that controversial if you look at the video review for five minutes,” Stieber said. “Basically, three or four refs were looking at it.”

Stieber won his second-straight championship. Ramos, who had emerged as arguably Iowa’s best wrestler this season, has come closer and closer to knocking off the Buckeye sophomore every time he has faced him.

But ultimately, this season ended the same way last season did for Ramos: vowing to beat him next year.

“I’m right there with the best guys in the world — not just the country,” he said. “Stieber and I are probably the top two in the world. I’m going to have to beat him though. I’ve got to beat him if I want to be the best.”

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