East Lansing – Saline played like the top-ranked team in the state Thursday afternoon at Michigan State's McLane Stadium, pounding out an impressive 12-0, five-inning mercy-rule victory over No. 2 Grosse Pointe Liggett in a Division 1 state semifinal game.
Liggett (33-5) moved up two divisions to play against the top competition in the state after winning the Division 3 state title last season. But Liggett ran into a powerful Hornets team in the semifinals.
Saline (38-3) is not only the top-ranked team in the state, but also ranked No. 12 nationally by USA Today. And the Hornets played like it with junior left-hander Cole Daniels pitching one-hit shutout ball for the first four innings to get the win while the offense banged out 14 hits.
“We had a specific approach that we wanted to follow that Coach (Scott) Theisen gave us yesterday during practice and we just wanted to execute the best we could, just single them to death and keep putting good swings on the ball, and that’s what we did,” said Saline senior slugger Sean O’Keefe (Western Michigan), who paced the hitting attack with three singles, including a two-run single in the opening inning when the Hornets scored five runs, then another two-run single in the fifth when they crossed the plate six times.
“It’s always great (to get big first inning). It just settles down the starting pitcher, settles down everyone. I just hope we can keep it up Saturday.”
Saline will be making its sixth state title game appearance in the last 20 years Saturday at 9 a.m. against Northville, but still in search of winning its first championship.
“The state championship game is always important,” said O’Keefe, who blasted a two-run homer in last year’s state title game to give Saline a 6-5 lead in what turned out to be a 7-6 loss to Warren De La Salle. “We think about last year a lot, but we’re not going to worry about it since it’s a new game, a new team and Northville’s a great opponent. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great day. It’s all hands on deck (pitching-wise). We’re going to do whatever it takes to win a state championship for Coach Theisen.”
Saline displayed its outstanding lineup with no easy out 1-through-9. In fact, the bottom three batters in the lineup – Ethan Collick, Ted Eppinga and Sean Millspaugh – each collected two hits and combined for five RBI.
“We’ve hit the ball well all year and we're carrying momentum into the championship game,” said Daniels, who is a Kentucky commit. “Our lineup this year has been really good.”
Junior Anthony George, who was 13-1 last season while leading Liggett to the state title, suffered the loss, giving up eight runs and nine hits.
Liggett came up short of pulling off the improbable, winning the Division 1 state title with an enrollment of 280, but veteran coach Dan Cimini was proud of his team.
“I just told the guys this is a magical season,” said Cimini, whose team won a school-record 33 games. “I told them that is a downer, it’s a bummer, but we’ve done this to other teams. To go into Division 1 with a small school, 13 guys on varsity, and go and win five games and get to the Final Four again for the sixth time in seven years is an incredible feat. I told them they’ll never forget that and I won’t either.
“We just ran into a really great team. They have some great players. Once we got down 5-0 I knew we were in trouble because we’re not that type kind of team. We're the type of team that stays close and makes you make mistakes. They just hit the cover off the ball and you have to tip your hat to them. We didn’t beat ourselves. They beat us.”
Northville 9, Grand Haven 1
Saline 12, Grosse Pointe Liggett 0
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Stevensville Lakeshore 7, Chelsea 1
Bay City John Glenn 15, Dearborn Divine Child 4
Final: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Madison Heights Bishop Foley vs. Caro, 9 a.m.
Traverse City St. Francis vs. Schoolcraft, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Portland St. Patrick, 2:30 p.m.
Hudson vs. Gaylord St. Mary, 5 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5 p.m.