Liggett players and coaches give the No. 1 sign after winning a Division 4 state championship with a 3-2 eight-inning win over Beal City. photo by Renato Jamett.
June 20, 2013Liggett head coach Dan Cimini received the best Father's Day gift last weekend.
His boys' baseball team beat Beal City 3-2 in eight innings to win the Division 4 state championship at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek.
It's the second state title in the past three seasons for the Knights and the third straight finals appearance. Liggett beat Merrill 5-1 to win the 2011 title and lost 4-1 to Decatur in last year's championship game.
"It was an unbelievable baseball game," Cimini said. "Good teams battle back. We weren't going to lose. What these kids have done is incredible."
The Knights scored a run in the top of the eighth inning when junior Cole Zingas singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by junior Adam Fiema.
Zingas moved to third on a single by senior Mark Auk, but an errant throw on a pickoff attempt of Auk at first allowed Zingas to score what turned out to be the winning run. Sophomore Nick Azar struck out and senior Connor Fannon flew out to end the inning, but the Knights had a 3-2 lead.
Fiema, who came in to pitch, got Beal City out one-two-three in the bottom of the eighth. He received plenty of defensive support in the inning. Auk made a sliding catch of a ball in short center field for one out.
The players rushed the mound to celebrate state title No. 2. Nate Gaggin caught the final out on a foul pop out near the Beal City dugout. After sprawling on the ground after making the catch, his arms went in the air and Fannon threw his arms in the air to celebrate.
The Knights trailed 1-0, but tied it with a run in the sixth and took a 2-1 lead with a run in the seventh.
However, Beal City sent it to extra innings, but left the bases loaded as the Knights dodged a major scare.
Auk started and pitched the first four innings. Fannon pitched the next three innings to earn the win and Fiema earned the save with the scoreless eighth inning.
The trio combined to give up eight hits and seven walks and only four strikeouts. However, they got the big outs when needed.
Offensively, Fiema, Auk and Fannon joined junior Anthony Simon, junior Patrick Broder and Zingas with one hit apiece.
Junior Ian Clark didn't have an official at-bat, but scored one of the Knights' three runs.
It was the second time this season Liggett beat Beal City by a run. They met in the Beal City tournament earlier in the season and won 1-0.
In the title game, Beal City head coach Brad Antcliff tried several tricks, but the Knights never fell for one.
"Our kids played a great game. I can't believe Beal City left 14 runners on base (the Aggies left the bases loaded in four of the eight innings), but our guys made the big plays when they had to," Cimini said.
With the win, Liggett finished its championship season 31-4 overall.
In the semifinals, Liggett edged New Lothrop 1-0 as Fannon was the master of the mound. He earned the win, pitching seven innings, giving up only two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.
Auk scored the winning run in the sixth inning. He led off with a bunt single to third base after the third baseman was playing behind the bag. Auk laid down a perfect bunt and beat it out.
He advanced to third on two wild pitches and scored on Azar's sacrifice fly.
Gaggin had two of the Knights' five hits, with Zingas, Auk and senior Kevin Allen each collecting one hit.
Liggett won its quarterfinal game at Adrian College, beating Concord 10-0 as Fannon earned the victory. He pitched six innings, throwing a one hitter with 12 strikeouts.
Concord didn't have a chance to get on the board, but the Knights didn't have any problems as Zingas was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Fiema was 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Fannon and Gaggin were 1-for-3 with an RBI as the Knights won by mercy.
Cimini finished his 10th year at the helm. He has a 276-55 career record, which is an average record of 27-5 each season, and during the last three years the Knights are 22-1 in the state playoffs.
"We lose four great seniors, who really stepped up in the title run, but we have some wonderful guys returning and good ones coming into our program," Cimini said.
Cimini loses Auk, Gaggin, Fannon and Allen to graduation. Returning are Simon, Robert Kaiser, Fiema, Jacob Smith, Broder, Zingas, Clark, Azar, Sean Fannon, Joe Cipriano, Matthew Gushee and Lordanthony Grissom.