HERSHEY, Pa. — The PIAA Class 2A 215-pound championship bout Saturday between Frazier senior Rune Lawrence and Muncy junior Austin Johnson was billed as one of the biggest state championship matches in PIAA history.

A runner-up at the prestigious Powerade tournament, Johnson entered the match with a career record of 111-3, having reached the state finals in all three years of high school. He nearly became the first freshman to win a PIAA title at heavyweight in 2022, losing in overtime before claiming the 215-pound title as a sophomore. With both wrestlers ranked among the top 20 in the country at the weight class by FloWrestling, many expected an even, back-and-forth tilt between the two defending state champions.

In the end, “Cool Hand Rune” proved to be in a class of his own.

Lawrence nearly surrendered an early takedown in the first period, but it didn’t take long for him to take control of the match. After a one-point escape to start the second period, a takedown gave Lawrence a 3-0 lead, then he added another takedown in the third period after an escape by Johnson. Lawrence finished the third period working for a turn in top position while Johnson lay helpless on the mat, only letting him up for a meaningless one-point escape as time expired — giving Lawrence a 6-3 victory for his historic fourth state title.

“At the moment [I won my first title], I knew I was going to be a four-timer,” Lawrence said. “There was no question about it.”

After a tense exchange between the two nationally ranked competitors at the final whistle, Lawrence landed a celebratory backflip at the center of the mat, then held up four fingers as the Giant Center crowd roared in approval.

“Score the first takedown and win the match — that was basically the mindset,” Lawrence said. “If I’m on top of you and there’s a short time left, I’m not getting off.”

A West Virginia recruit, Lawrence (33-1) is only the 14th four-time champion in the 87-year history of the PIAA wrestling tournament and just the seventh from the WPIAL. He was voted Outstanding Wrestler of the Class 2A tournament, putting an emphatic stamp on his spectacular career with a record of 145-8, including 102 wins by fall.

“It’s a small group out of all the years,” Lawrence said. “It’s pretty sweet to be a part of that.”

With his high school career now in the rearview mirror, Lawrence has one more marquee matchup awaiting him before he heads off to Morgantown. He will headline the Pennsylvania All-Star team at the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic March 30 at Peters Township High School, when he takes on four-time Florida state champion Sawyer Bartelt.

Lawrence is ranked No. 3 in the country at 215 pounds by FloWrestling, while Bartelt holds the No. 1 spot — for now.

Two other WPIAL wrestlers took the mat for the championship finals in Class 2A, and things didn’t go so well for Bentworth senior Chris Vargo. A four-time PIAA medalist and two-time finalist, Vargo (41-3) had to settle for a silver medal for the second year in a row after a 15-0 technical fall against Bishop McCort sophomore Jax Forrest.

Vargo defeated Forrest in a major upset in the Southwest regional finals last week, 13-7, but lightning would not strike twice for the Edinboro recruit. Forrest is ranked as the No. 6 pound-for-pound wrestler in the country, and he proved worthy of such lofty status in Saturday’s rematch.

Central Valley senior Brenan Morgan also made his second consecutive finals appearance after a runner-up finish a year ago, and Morgan managed to turn silver into gold with a 6-4 decision against Berks Catholic’s Brody Kline in the final match of the night at 285 pounds.

A Virginia recruit, Morgan (43-0) moved up to heavyweight for his senior season after losing to Johnson in last year’s 215-pound final. That turned out to be a wise decision, as Morgan capped his high school career as Central Valley’s first state champion in school history and the only undefeated wrestler in the WPIAL.

“It’s really cool [to be undefeated]. You don’t want any blemishes on your record,” Morgan said. “It feels amazing. I worked so hard just to get to this moment, and I finally got it.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.