HERSHEY, Pa. — It simply doesn’t get any bigger than this.

The matchup wrestling fans have clamored for all year has finally come to fruition, as Frazier’s Rune Lawrence and Muncy’s Austin Johnson both took care of business with dominant victories in their semifinal bouts, clearing the way for the highly anticipated showdown of defending state champions in Saturday night’s Class 2A 215-pound finals at Giant Center. Johnson, a junior, is now a three-time PIAA finalist with a career record of 111-3, while Lawrence is a three-time state champion who is attempting to become only the 14th wrestler to win four PIAA titles.

For somebody who has made wrestling look so easy, Lawrence knows the final match of his high school career will likely be his toughest — but he’s not going to change a thing about his ultra-aggressive style.

“It will be a great match. I’m just excited to wrestle,” Lawrence said. “If I go out and perform, I don’t think anyone here can stop me.”

After a 45-second pin in his quarterfinal match against Catasauqua’s Chad Beller, Lawrence (32-1) built up an 18-6 lead in his semifinal bout before pinning Brookville’s Gavin Hannah 13 seconds into the second period. The West Virginia recruit now has 13 consecutive pins and 102 for his career.

“Pinning [Johnson] tomorrow would mean a lot,” Lawrence said. “If he goes to his back, he’s not coming off it. That’s the plan.”

Lawrence was one of three WPIAL wrestlers to advance to the finals in Class 2A, joined by Bentworth senior Chris Vargo (41-2) at 127 and Central Valley senior Brenan Morgan (42-0) at 285.

A four-time PIAA medalist and two-time finalist, Vargo pinned Logan Stewart of Reynolds in 1:35 in his semifinal bout, setting the stage for a ‘David vs. Goliath’ rematch against Bishop McCort sophomore Jax Forrest tomorrow night. In one of the biggest upsets of the year anywhere in the country, Vargo defeated Forrest in last week’s Southwest Regional finals, 13-7.

Forrest, the No. 6 pound-for-pound wrestler in the country according to FloWrestling, defeated Indiana’s Nico Fanella via a 21-6 technical fall in his semifinal matchup.

“My past three years, I’ve been wrestling with a knee injury. I always had knee injuries to my right knee, but I finally got it fixed this summer,” Vargo said. “I can’t wait. I’m excited. Nobody thinks I can do it. Let’s do it again.”

As for Morgan, the WPIAL’s only remaining undefeated wrestler in Class 2A pinned Burgettstown’s Joey Baronick with two seconds left in the second period to advance to his second consecutive championship match. Like Vargo, Morgan came up short in last year’s final — losing a 10-7 decision to Johnson at 215 pounds — but he believes making the switch to heavyweight this season gives him the best chance at bringing home the gold.

“I just want to soak it in,” Morgan said. “It’s definitely going to be super hyped for the finals. … I’m not going to change my style for anyone. I’m just going to wrestle my match.”

Class 3A boys

After a terrific showing in Friday morning’s quarterfinal round, with 17 of 24 WPIAL wrestlers advancing to the Class 3A semifinals, the local contingent found the sledding much tougher in the semifinals.

Only five of the WPIAL’s 17 quarterfinalists moved on to Saturday’s championship finals — Norwin freshman Landon Sidun (41-2) at 114, Franklin Regional senior Tyler Kapusta (45-6) at 121, Thomas Jefferson junior Maddox Shaw (42-3) at 139, and Pine-Richland junior Vaughn Spencer (42-2) and Trinity senior Bodie Miller (30-4) in an all-WPIAL final at 172.

Many anticipated a rematch of last week’s thrilling WPIAL championship match between Sidun and Butler sophomore Santino Sloboda in the 114-pound finals, but those plans got derailed by Ridley’s Curtis Nelson, who reversed Sloboda (38-1) in the final seconds to escape with a 6-4 semifinal win. Sidun held up his end of the bargain with an exciting 9-8 win against Northampton’s Gabriel Ballard.

Nelson also upset former state champion Kaedyn Williams of Manheim Township by fall in the first round, so he should present a daunting challenge for Sidun — a highly touted freshman who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 113.

Norwin freshman Landon Sidun (right) defeated top-seeded Colby Martinelli of Pennridge in the Class 3A 114-pound quarterfinals on his way to reaching the state finals in his debut season. (Lloyd McCully)

Kapusta defeated West Scranton’s Tyson Cook by a 7-2 decision to reach his first state championship match, and he won’t have to worry about going through Latrobe junior Luke Willochell to make it to the top of the podium. Willochell, who defeated Kapusta in both the section finals and WPIAL finals, lost his semifinal match in overtime to defending state champion Keanu Dillard of Bethlehem Catholic, 4-2.

As for Shaw, the returning state finalist will face former PIAA champion and Penn State recruit Dalton Perry of Central Mountain in a marquee matchup for the 139-pound title. Perry defeated Shaw, 3-1, in the 2022 semifinals on his way to winning a state title as a freshman.

After racking up 12 pins in a row going into the quarterfinal round — including 10 in the first period — Shaw had to battle until the final whistle to eke out a 3-2 decision against West Scranton’s Michael Turi. He then got back to his finishing ways in the semifinals, pinning Patrick Kelly of Central Bucks West with six seconds left in the third period.

“It’s always a good match with [Perry],” Shaw said. “We’re going to scrap. That’s all there is to it. We’re going to have some fun.”

Miller defeated Latrobe freshman Hunter Snyder (38-6) by a narrow 5-3 decision in his semifinal matchup, while Spencer rolled into the finals with a second-period pin against Sam Gautreau of Owen J. Roberts. Holding onto a slim 1-0 lead, Spencer scrambled to avoid a takedown by Gautreau, then somehow reversed the position to lock up a cradle, securing the fall with six seconds left in the period.

“I practice being funky,” Spencer said. “We always take at least 10-15 minutes at every practice to work on scrambling. It’s just as important as the fundamentals. … That extra work, it adds up all year.

“I’m comfortable in those awkward situations, and I was able to make it work in the big moment.”

Girls semifinals

While the WPIAL boys lost more matches than they won in both the Class 3A and Class 2A semifinals, the local girls had a much better showing on Friday, sending five out of eight semifinalists into Saturday’s historic championship finals.

Canon-McMillan senior Valarie Solorio, Butler senior Ana Malovich, Moon freshman Haley Smarsh, North Allegheny senior Leyna Rumpler and Canon-McMillan junior Natalie Rush will be the five girls to represent the WPIAL on the big stage in the inaugural PIAA girls championship finals. Solorio and Malovich both won by pin, while Smarsh, Rumpler and Rush had to go the distance to grind out their semifinal victories.

Ranked No. 3 in the country at 100 pounds, Solorio (15-0) wasted little time flattening Bensalem’s Payton Hinkle in 1:06. Competing with a partially torn ACL, Solorio has pinned each of her first three foes in Hershey in the first period.

“I can’t wait for the atmosphere [tomorrow],” Solorio said. “I just know I have a huge target on my back. I know everyone is aiming to take me out, and I know I have everything to lose, so I just wrestle every match like it will be my last.”

Malovich (18-0) is ranked No. 10 in the country in her weight class, and she has been almost as dominant as Solorio on her way to the 118-pound finals, notching three consecutive second-period pins. Her finals match will be a much tougher challenge, though, with Malovich set to square off against top-seeded Savannah Witt of Palisades. Witt won each of her first three matches by first-period fall, and she carries a record of 30-0 on the season.

“Being able to compete here my senior year is so surreal. It’s something I’ve truly longed for,” Malovich said. “I’m just excited to go out there and compete.”

At 130 pounds, Smarsh remained undefeated in her stellar debut season, outlasting Hamburg’s Shannon Govern for a 9-4 decision after winning her first two matches by first-period pin. Like Malovich, Smarsh will have her work cut out for her in the finals against top-seeded Aubre Krazer of Easton, who holds a record of 26-0.

“It’s really exciting,” Smarsh said about reaching the state finals. “It’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do.”

Rush (34-2) narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory against Reading’s Esmeralda Tellez to reach the 190-pound finals, while Rumpler (35-1) may have had the most nail-biting match of the night. Battling deep into overtime against Northern Bedford’s Raegan Snider, Rumpler managed to keep Snider down for the duration of the ultimate tiebreaker period to emerge victorious, 2-1.

Now, Rumpler will face off with Hickory’s Avry Ryhal for the fourth time this year in the 155-pound finals. Rumpler defeated Ryhal, 2-1, in last week’s West Regional finals, and she has won two out of three matches in the series so far.

“This was my first time ever doing an ultimate rideout,” Rumpler said. “It was a tough match, but I’m glad I came out on top. … I knew I had to dig super deep.”

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.