Dan Cimini paid close attention to what Grosse Pointe South baseball coach Dan Griesbaum was teaching him when he played during his high school days 30 years ago.
Now Cimini will be trying to send Griesbaum and Grosse Pointe South to the sidelines when he guides his Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett team in the Division 1 district at South this week.
Cimini made the decision to have Liggett move up to Division 1 after winning the Division 3 state championship twice in the previous three years, including last season.
And Liggett — which has an enrollment of 280 — is entering the state tournament with momentum. Liggett is 28-3 and coming off victories over a pair of strong Division 1 teams in Rockford and Clinton Township Chippewa Valley in recent weeks.
“We’re playing really good baseball, at a very high level and we’re playing as a team,” Cimini said.
“And that’s what we’ve been built on, but this year more than anything because they know they have a lot of eyes on them and the kids love that, love the fact that people are looking at us, wanting us to fall on our face, and it’s not happening.”
Liggett’s losses have come against Division 1’s Portage Northern and Warren De La Salle, the defending state champion, and Detroit Country Day, who is ranked No. 1 in Division 2.
Cimini was proud to be among the players who played on Griesbaum’s first team to reach the state finals, which fell short in 1987 in the semifinals. South went on to compete in six more state finals, winning the state championship in 2001 and finishing runner-up in 2014 before advancing to the semifinals again in 2015.
“I played for Coach Griesbaum in 1987, my senior year was the first time South ever went to the Final Four,” Cimini said. “He (Griesbaum) got there as head coach in ’84 so that was his third year. He’s been my mentor, a guy in baseball I’ve always looked up to and it’s kind of fun how we’re competing against each other. It’s come full circle.”
While Liggett is having another outstanding season, South (17-19) has hovered around the .500 mark after losing double-digit one-run games. South will host Hamtramck in a district semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with the winner playing Grosse Pointe North (27-9) Saturday at 10 a.m. Liggett will take on Detroit East English at 12:30 p.m. Saturday with the district final scheduled for 3 p.m.
South has won two of three games over North this season, with the teams playing to a 9-9 eight-inning tie Saturday.
Liggett has enjoyed strong performances from several players, including junior second baseman Noah Miller (.484, 28 RBIs), junior center fielder Will Morrison (.404, 31 stolen bases) and senior shortstop Connor McCarron (.390, four homers, 41 RBIs).
“I’m telling you right now he’s the best infielder in the state,” Cimini said of the 5-foot-9 McCarron. “I call him ‘Little Ozzie’ because those are the type of plays he makes. He’s a D1 player and I don’t know why the D1 coaches aren’t pulling the trigger on him. He’s a gamer, a winner.”
Liggett has an outstanding pitching staff with a team ERA of 1.20 that is anchored by junior Anthony George, who is 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA after going 13-1 with a 1.34 ERA a year ago.
North, the Macomb Area Conference White Division champs, is coached by 69-year-old Frank Sumbera, who earned his 1,000th career win two years ago and guided North to state titles in 1980 and 2006.
North has strong pitching, led by 6-5 sophomore Chad Lorkowski (4-1, 0.98 ERA), who threw a three-hitter with 15 strikeouts in a 6-0 shutout over Plymouth on Saturday. Senior Sam Cross (6-3, 1.83), junior Tyler Hill (6-1, 1.20) and sophomore left-hander Nick David (4-0) have also pitched well.
Cross is hitting .444 and Lorkowski .358 with five homers and 44 RBIs.
Key baseball dates
Districts: Tuesday, Friday-Saturday
Regionals: June 10
Quarterfinals: June 13
Semifinals: June 15-16, at MSU’s McLane Stadium
Finals: June 17, at MSU’s McLane Stadium
■Division 1, Warren De La Salle
■Division 2, Holland Christian
■Division 3, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett
■Division 4, Sterling Heights Parkway Christian