March 18, 2001 11:00 pm

For The Observer

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Oregon States Eric Jorgensen placed fifth at 157 pounds and the Beavers tied for 18th in the team race when the NCAA Wrestling Championships concluded Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Jorgensen, seeded fourth, was beaten by sixth-seeded Luke Becker of Minnesota 3-2 in the wrestleback semifinals but came back to top fifth-seeded Kirk White of Boise State 3-1 in overtime in the fifth-place final.

Were very proud of him, OSU head coach Joe Wells said of

Jorgensen is a senior and a 1996 La Grande High School graduate who earned All-America honors for the first time this season. Hes improved every year. He ends up being named the outstanding wrestler in the conference (at the Pacific-10 Championships) and being an All-American.

Jorgensen ended his career with a 115-43 record, and he scored team bonus points for a pin, technical fall, major decision or forfeit in 42 percent of his matches (67 of 158). This season, he was 37-7 with team bonus points in 48 percent of his matches (21 of 44).

The win in the fifth-place final was his third straight over White after the 1999 national champ at 165 pounds had beaten him in December. Jorgensen had also beaten White in the Pac-10 final.

He definitely made adjustments and improved during the year, Wells said of Jorgensen.

Neither Jorgensen nor White scored in the first period of their bout. Jorgensen started in the down position and escaped in the second period and White did the same in the third period to leave the score 1-1.

In overtime, Jorgensen forced the action and White countered and was able to get in on Jorgensens leg; Jorgensen then countered, got around White and put him in a cradle. About 30 seconds into the extra period, the official awarded Jorgensen the takedown and, with it, fifth place.

In the wrestleback semifinals, Minnesotas Becker scored a takedown and Jorgensen an escape to make it 2-1 after one period. Jorgensen escaped in the second period and Becker escaped in the third, handing Becker a 3-2 win.

Eric got in a few times with a chance for a takedown, but he just couldnt finish it, Wells said.

The Beavers improved to a top-20 team finish after placing 36th in 2000. Six of OSUs seven wrestlers in the tournament scored a win before being eliminated.

Realistically, if we had wrestled as well as we could have, we could have been in the top 10, Wells said. But we didnt wrestle as well as we could have. If you look at our individual performances, every one of our guys here has beaten someone who was an All-American.

You always think of the what-ifs, the woulda-coulda-shouldas. But what we did was tie for 18th and have one All-American, and hell be around a while next year to help out. A couple of our guys are real close, and what we do between now and next fall will be significant. Now we hit the recruiting trail and get our schedule ready, and it looks like were going to have a doozy of a schedule next year.