June 8, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Baseball quarterfinals preview: Liggett moves up, knocks off three-time defending champs

Brandon Hughes hit a 10th-inning homer and closed out the regional final win on the mound for Sterling Heights Stevenson on Saturday. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)

Grosse Pointe Woods — Dan Cimini has coached two state championship teams in the last three years, but his team’s regional championship on Saturday might prove more meaningful.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett upset three-time defending Division 3 champion Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 5-4, in the regional final at Manchester.

University Liggett (23-8) won the Division 4 title in 2011 and ’13 before moving up.

It will face Clinton in a quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Chelsea.

Clinton defeated Jackson Lumen Christi, 4-3, to advance.

“That was a great baseball team we beat,” Cimini said. “It’s very gratifying for a coach. We win Division 4. Now we move up and beat the Division 3 champion.

“We believed we could beat them. When we got them out in the first inning, we were confident. We got a double play to end the second and another to end the third.”

The latter was special. Freshman shortstop Connor McCarron dove for a ball up the middle, flipped backhanded to Nick Azar at second and Azar threw to first to complete the double play.

University Liggett led 1-0 going into the fourth, then scored four runs off starter Austin Lukaschewski and reliever Garrett Schilling.

Trailing 5-0 in the seventh, Bishop Foley scored four runs after two were out. Sophomore Matt Gushee allowed one hit through 623 innings before giving up a bunt single, a walk, a single, a hit batsman and another walk to make the score 5-2. An error produced another run and it was 5-3.

Another single brought in the fourth run but Azar prevented the ball from reaching the outfield. The runner from second had made a wide turn at third but was held up. Azar quickly threw the ball to third baseman Gehrig Anglin, who tagged out the runner trying to return to third for the final out.

“I was having a heart attack,” Cimini said. “As a coach you dream of playing a perfect game and for 623 innings we did. We outplayed them.

“This wasn’t a fluke. This is a great accomplishment but we haven’t won anything yet. I told them to enjoy this until (Sunday) and then it’s back to work.”

Strange turn of events

Sterling Heights Stevenson was beatable on Saturday, but like all good teams it found a way to win.

Stevenson (37-2) defeated Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse, 3-0, in a Division 1 regional semifinal at New Baltimore Anchor Bay, then slipped past Warren DeLaSalle, 7-2 in 10 innings, in the final.

DeLaSalle took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on a balk.

Stevenson tied the game in the seventh on a balk.

In the 10th Brandon Hughes led off with a home run and Stevenson tacked on four more runs.

Hughes (7-0) came on in relief in the eighth inning and closed it out.

Before the 10th Hughes, who signed with Michigan State, gave his teammates a pep talk.

“He pulled the team together,” coach Joe Emanuele said. “I didn’t get involved. I let him talk and he said, ‘I’m going to get on base and we’re going to score, and we’re going to win.’

“Today wasn’t easy for us. We pressed a bit.”

Payback

Last season, Grosse Pointe South lost to U-D Jesuit, 4-3, in a regional final. On Saturday, South returned the favor.

Jimmy Menchl went all seven innings as South defeated U-D, 4-2, at Grosse Pointe North.

South (25-17) defeated Detroit Western, 10-0, in one semifinal and U-D bested Livonia Stevenson, 7-1, in the other.

It’s South’s first regional title since 2005 and it will face top-ranked Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Division 1 quarterfinal at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Wayne State.

Menchl, a senior right-hander, went the first three innings and threw 44 pitches in notching the victory against Western.

South coach Dan Griesbaum elected to go with Menchl in the final and Menchl delivered. He threw 82 pitches (126 on the day) and gave up five hits and no walks and struck out four.

“He threw a great game, and had a great day,” Griesbaum said. “He made two mistakes. He hit two batters. He was in command. We played the 10 o’clock game so he had time to rest. He’s mentally tough.”

Menchl is 5-2 with two saves and a 1.51 ERA. A shortstop, Menchl was South’s closer throughout most of the season. A week before the districts Griesbaum and his staff decided to move Menchl to the top spot in the rotation.

The tradition continues

Charlie Christner is doing his best to keep the program at Brighton moving forward.

Christner, in his second season as head coach, is just the third head coach Brighton has had since 1972. He took a big step toward earning his stripes on Saturday as Brighton won the Division 1 regional at Novi with a 9-3 victory over the host team in the semifinals and a 2-0 victory over West Bloomfield in the final.

Brighton (31-6) will play Clarkston (20-11) in a quarterfinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Novi.

Mark Carrow coached Brighton from ’72-’06 and he had two Mr. Baseball award winners during his tenure, Drew Henson (1998) and Ron Hollis (’91).

Christner played for Carrow and graduated in 2001, then went on to play at Western Michigan. Christner was an assistant under George Recht for six seasons before taking over last season.

“This is a big deal,” Christner said of the regional title. “We lost in the pre-district last year and had a good team then.”

Colin McClelland tossed a two-hitter in the championship game and Alexx Zielinski started the semifinal.

Ten of Brighton’s players are underclassmen and its top five pitchers are juniors.

This is Brighton’s second quarterfinal appearance in the last two years. It never has played for a state title.

Clarkston has arms

Clarkston (20-11) won its first regional title since 2002 on Saturday as it defeated Bloomfield Hills, 4-1, in a semifinal and Rochester Adams, 9-1, in the final.

Both of the runs Clarkston gave up were unearned.

Nathan Witt, who signed with Michigan State, was the winning pitcher in the semifinal and David Steward notched the victory in the final. Both are senior right-handers.

Clarkston will face Brighton on Tuesday and coach Phil Price said it’s unlikely either Witt or Steward will start.

“I’ve got five quality arms,” Price said. “I could go with Ryan Ray or maybe D.J. Zezula, or someone else.”

After a poor start Clarkston has won 18 of its last 20.

tom.markowski@detroitnews.com