Those who travel far and wide to Sin City hope to pick the luck of the draw and return home with pockets full of cash. At the two-day Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, the Michigan wrestling team nearly hit the jackpot.

Top-ranked 141-pound Kellen Russell entered the tournament after recovering from a minor tweak in his right knee. He was not expected to miss a step throughout the tournament.

But it seems as his luck ran out.

No. 9 Michigan placed second, and Russell’s 46-match win streak came to a shocking end against Ohio State freshman Hunter Stieber in the quarterfinals. Russell failed to take home his third Cliff Keen championship title, but he managed to wrestle his way back through the consolation bracket for a third-place finish.

“Kellen bounced back — that’s what champions do,” said Michigan coach Joe McFarland. “They come back with a fury, and you don’t want to be that next guy. I think Kellen did a great job of refocusing, and I think we saw a different wrestler out there than we saw (Friday) night.”

In the semifinals of the consolation bracket, Russell squared off against Cal Poly’s No. 2 Boris Novachkov in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Championship bout, which Russell narrowly won. Through the third lengthy tiebreaker, consisting of nothing but single point escapes, Russell and Novachkov defended their respective territories with resilience.

Novachkov mustered another escape, which put the pressure on Russell. With just 13 seconds to make an escape, Russell did just that, and won with two seconds of riding time, earning his third win over the Cal Poly senior.

“Overall, it was one of the best matches I’ve wrestled against him,” Russell said. “I was more offensive than I have been in the past.”

Redshirt sophomore Eric Grajales took the cards he was dealt against each opponent and traded them in for the 149-pound crown. His win helped the Wolverines take second place with 116 points, just behind the tournament-winning No. 6 Ohio State team with 129.

Grajales, ranked sixth in the nation, captured his first collegiate tournament title. After a bye in the first round, he pinned California Baptist’s Dylan Cataline in the first period.

Grajales moved on with a technical fall in 6:56 on Indiana’s Taylor Walsh. A month ago, Walsh caught Grajales off guard and scored an upset at the Michigan State Open. But this time, Grajales didn’t hesitate to make a multifaceted attack. He racked up a 19-4 win with two throws, a body lock, a headlock, three takedowns, locked hands and an escape.

“I felt great,” Grajales said. “It was a chance to prove myself and show what I’m capable of.”

Senior Zac Stevens finished fourth in the 133-pound circle after a notable start on Friday. In round one, he pinned Nebraska Kearny senior Kazuhiro Fujinawa and later pummeled Western Wyoming sophomore Richard Serna with a 16-0 technical fall victory.

Apparently, redshirt senior Justin Zeerip went to Vegas with a figurative rabbit’s foot in his pocket.

Zeerip pinned his first opponent in a mere 28 seconds, before his 8-2 decision in the second round and 11-1 major decision in the quarters. He worked his way up the bracket by his own merit, but made it into the finals on a medical forfeit.

While fighting for the crown, Zeerip’s luck finally ran out as well. He had a 5-2 lead against Cal Poly’s Ryan DesRoches entering the third period, but DesRoches struck back and eventually forced overtime. In the extra periods, Zeerip could not find a point advantage and lost 6-5.

But even with the multiple losses, Michigan had its best finish at the annual invite since 2007. But was it enough to quell Michigan coach Joe McFarland’s lofty expectations?

“I thought we were in a position to take control of this tournament, and we let it slip away a little bit,” McFarland said.

He wanted his wrestlers to learn a valuable lesson: to know that they must never give an opponent an inch of mat.

“(To give) nothing less — that’s when you’re going to get your hand raised,” McFarland said.

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