Murin, McCoy, Oliver capture PIAA gold

CC senior gets OW; Bearcat repeats

Photo for the Mirror by Tami Knopsnyder Central Cambria coaches Ted Rakar (left) and Bob Nikolishen react to Max Murin’s championship win at 138 pounds.

HERSHEY — Central Cambria’s Max Murin, Chestnut Ridge’s Justin McCoy and Huntingdon’s Jacob Oliver all trailed at one point in their title bouts at the PIAA Class 2A Championships on Saturday afternoon.

They just didn’t let their respective outcomes stay that way.

All three captured state titles on the final day of the state tournament at the Giant Center in different ways, including Murin’s heart-pounding 2-1 ultimate tiebreaker win over fellow 2015 state champ Cole Matthews of Reynolds in a classic 138-pound bout.

“Oh man, I never saw anything like it,” Central Cambria coach Bob Nikolishen said. “I don’t know if I ever will. Max actually reached down inside of his guts, and he pulled them out on the mat.”

“This is unreal,” Murin said. “This is overwhelming feeling, and I’m grateful to experience it.”

The Iowa-bound Murin was later presented the Outstanding Wrestler award, winning the honor by a landslide in voting by the media. Murin wanted to win the award last year, but Athens’ Brian Courtney beat him in the finals and two other state champs during the tournament, and he got the OW.

“I felt like if I won last year, I definitely would have won the OW,” Murin said. “It’s a year later, but I’m still extremely happy and I’m extremely grateful. It’s awesome. I’ve been working for this ever since I was real little, and it’s a dream come true.

“When I lost last year at states, I wrote on a piece of paper ‘2017 state champ,’ and I taped it to my wall,” Murin said. “I looked at it every time I went to bed and every time I woke up, and it definitely helped me.”

“This is the cherry on top of the cake for Max,” Nikolishen said. “He’s said in interviews before that he wanted to be the OW at the state tournament, with all of these characters that are here, and he found it. He stuck a flag in a new piece of land. We’ll call it ‘Maxland.'”

Murin is the 13th District 6 wrestler to be named the state OW, the first since Central Mountain’s Andrew Alton in 2010, and the third in the Mirror coverage area, joining Juniata Valley’s Garrett Scott (2005) and Huntingdon’s Jason Shea (1988).

Oliver also captured his second state title, beating Susquenita’s Dalton Group, 9-2, at 170 pounds. The win wasn’t as dramatic as Murin’s or his own from last year, when he beat Westmont Hilltop’s Anthony Walters in overtime. It was downright dominating.

McCoy rallied with five second-period points against Bishop McDevitt’s John Pipa, and then he rode like a champion in the third period to capture a 5-2 win. It was the program’s second state title and the first since Gary Pfahler won the 140-pound crown in 2008.

“It’s amazing. It’s hard to explain,” McCoy said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this, and to finally be here is amazing. It’s making me emotional just talking about it.”

Pfahler died last Thursday from unknown causes, and McCoy dedicated the win to Pfahler, who coached the current Ridge junior and other elementary wrestlers for his senior project, and North Star three-time state champ Nick Roberts. Roberts died suddenly recently.

“It was more than his senior project,” McCoy said of Pfahler. “He was so close to us, and I just wanted to do it for him.”

Four other area wrestlers placed in the top five of the tournament. Huntingdon’s Seth Baney (160) was third, while Central’s Brock Biddle (152) and Ridge’s Jared McGill (170) were fourth, and Moshannon Valley’s Larry Brown (160) took fifth.

Murin (40-0), who had three pins coming into the finals, and Matthews (43-2) went scoreless in a heavy-handed first period. Matthews escaped 52 seconds into the second period, and it looked like he would ride Murin out in the third, but the Red Devil managed to escape with 4 seconds left in regulation to tie the score and send the bout into overtime.

“I was dead tired. My body was killing me, but I had to use my mental toughness and get past it,” Murin said. “At Young Guns, I try to act like I’m in that situation all the time, and I think it was beneficial.”

Murin missed a takedown with 30 seconds left in overtime, and they went to the tiebreakers. Murin rode Matthews out in the first 30-second period, and Matthews did the same in the second. Matthews chose top for the ultimate tiebreaker, and the move nearly paid off.

With the crowd hanging on every move, Matthews clung to Murin desperately in the UTB, but as the clock ticked under 10 seconds, Murin started kicking away from his grasp, and he finally broke out for an escape with 6 seconds remaining to win.

“I was in a scramble with him, and I knew he was a really good scrambler,” Murin said. “I wasn’t going to waste a lot of time, so I started kicking. It worked out in my favor.”

Murin, Nikolishen and assistant coach Ted Rakar celebrated in their corner and walked back to the wrestlers’ area with wobbly legs.

Murin became the 22nd District 6 wrestler to win two titles, and he’s the first area grappler to accomplish that since Tyrone’s Bruce Wallace in 1982 and 1983. Oliver later became the 23rd in the district to reach the milestone.

“It’s awesome,” Oliver said.

Murin and Oliver have been invited to wrestle for Pennsylvania in the prestigious Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic on March 25 at the Pitt Fieldhouse.

Oliver (44-1) came out aggressively against Group (37-2), just missing takedowns in the first period. Group, actually, scored the first takedown with 47 seconds left in the first period. Oliver, though, escaped and took Group down with a high-crotch shot with 12 seconds left in the period.

“He got the first takedown, and I possibly had one before that,” Oliver said, “but I felt fine. I felt like I had that match, even when he had that two. I knew I could come back from it.”

It was all Oliver after that.

He escaped 18 seconds into the second, shot in on a single, lifted Group and brought him down for a takedown and a 6-2 lead. Oliver reversed 5 seconds into the third and rode hard the rest of the way, getting a stalling point with 18 seconds remaining.

“I got him moving a little bit,” Oliver said, “and once I got a little bit of a feel, I got what he felt like. I was timing his foot patterns, and once I got that down, I was pretty good.”

“I thought he dominated the whole match,” Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut said. “Even in the beginning, there were a couple takedowns that were close. The referee called him out. He looked great out there today. Jake is a goer on his feet. He’s physical, heavy-handed, and he was able to get to his high-crotch, which is his best takedown (shot). It’s awesome when he picks those guys up in the air. That’s what wrestling is supposed to be about.”

Oliver slapped hands with his coaches afterward and pointed to the fans, which is more emotion than the Edinboro recruit usually shows.

“That’s just me,” Oliver said. “I’m not very emotional.”

“I feel awesome,” Mykut said. “Jake is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had in the practice room. It’s a sport where you get what you put into it. He certainly put a lot into it, and he deserves what he got there today and what he’s done his whole career.

McCoy (43-3) had beaten Pipa (41-5), a returning runner-up already this season, 8-7, but Pipa fired first with a takedown with 21 seconds left in the first period.

“I’d rather be winning, of course, but there was a lot of time left,” Lazor said. “Justin can put some points on the board in a hurry. He’s very offensive-minded. Pipa is so strong on top that it took him awhile to finally get out of there. Once he did, he went right back to offense on his feet.”

In the second, McCoy escaped, took Pipa down with an ankle pick and immediately put him on his back for two nearfall points and a 5-2 lead.

“Earlier in the year, I was wrestling a kid, and I took him down, and I didn’t pounce on the kid,” McCoy said. “That match, I took the kid down, and I was looking for back (points) right away. So, I learned from my mistakes earlier in the year, and I put it to work in that match.”

McCoy rode hard the entire third period, and even before the final seconds ticked off the clock, Lazor and assistant coach Pat Berzonski were celebrating in their corner.

“That was great,” Lazor said. “That’s a young man who puts a lot of time into it, and to get rewarded on the biggest stage feels absolutely awesome. I couldn’t be prouder and happier for him.”

McCoy pointed toward the vocal Ridge fans with a broad smile, jumped into a hug with Lazor, hugged Berzonski and climbed into the stands to celebrate with his family.

McCoy wants to accomplish next year what Murin and Oliver did, winning two state titles.

“I want to be here next year, too,” McCoy said. “I just want to keep pushing, trying to get better and better. Hopefully, I’ll get this feeling again.”