So close

Askren finishes as NCAA wrestling runner-up
Sunday, March 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Ben Askren fought back the tears after his loss Saturday to Oklahoma State’s Chris Pendleton in the finals of the 2004 NCAA Championships.

Missouri’s redshirt freshman finished second after losing 11-4 to Pendleton at 174 on Saturday at Savvis Center. Askren had defeated Pendleton at the Big 12 Conference Championships.

Oklahoma State took home its second consecutive title with 123.5 points. Iowa was second with 82 and Lehigh and Ohio State tied for third with 77.5.

Missouri finished 13th with 43.

Askren was one of three Missouri wrestlers to earn All-American honors, the first time the Tigers have had that many.

Senior Jeremy Spates defeated Jeff Ecklof from Oklahoma 7-0 to place fifth at 149. Kenny Burleson placed seventh at 159, beating Army’s Phillip Simpson 6-4.

Missouri coach Brian Smith said Pendleton prevented Askren (32-5) from wrestling his style.

“(Pendleton) didn’t get into scrambling situations,” Smith said. “They tried to stay out of them.”

Pendleton took a 4-0 lead in the first period after a takedown and two near fall points. Askren escaped but Pendleton earned another takedown to build a 6-1 advantage. In the second, Pendleton scored one escape point, and each wrestler earned three points in the third. Pendleton received a point for riding time to cap the scoring.

Askren said Pendleton’s wrestling threw him off.

“I think he went back to his game plan this time,” Askren said. “He just used his quickness against me. I guess it worked this time.”

Unlike Spates’ previous matches with Ecklof, the match wasn’t close. After a scoreless first period, Ecklof chose down. Spates (26-8) quickly rolled Ecklof to his back for three near fall points. Ecklof couldn’t escape and Spates collected a large amount of riding time.

In the third, Spates escaped and took down Ecklof to build a 6-0 lead, then received a final point for riding time.

“The first period was a little iffy,” Spates said. “I almost was taken down one time and there was a couple scrambles but as soon as I got those back points I knew there was no way he could score that many points on me.”

Spates said he wanted a national title but wasn’t disappointed with his performance.

“It wasn’t a national title but All-American is something I always wanted to do,” he said.

Oklahoma coach Jack Spates, Jeremy’s father, didn’t coach during the match and received a hug from his son afterward.

“He doesn’t sit in the corner when I wrestle his guys but he said, ‘I’m definitely gonna watch the match,’” Spates said.

“He said, ‘You better come over and give me a hug,’ and I did.”

Burleson (35-6) had a little more trouble with his opponent.

With a minute left in the third period, the referee called Burleson for stalling, awarding Simpson a point to tie the score at 4. With about 40 seconds left, Burleson managed a reversal for a 6-4 lead, then held on.

“It feels good to go out with a win as much as the tournament means to all of us,” Burleson said.

Burleson was no stranger to close matches with Simpson.

“I wrestled Simpson at (Las Vegas) earlier this year and won by I think it was one or two points,” Burleson said.

“It was a barn-burner match just like today. So, I had a little more confidence than him probably going into the match, being that I beat him, but it was still nerve racking.”

Smith became emotional as he talked about the final matches of his first two recruits at Missouri.

“They finished their last matches, wrestled hard and got the win,” Smith said. “You know I’m proud of them. I love the guys.”

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