East Lansing — It didn’t take long for Grosse Pointe Liggett to give ace pitcher Alec Azar a cushion in a Division 3 state semifinal Friday afternoon at McLane Stadium.
Liggett had a two-out rally in the top of the first when Drew Zelenak singled and Logan King followed with a two-run homer over the left-field fence for a 2-0 lead.
Azar showed he would be tough to hit, striking out the side in the bottom of the first with the Nos. 2 and 3 hitters called out on strikes. He finished with a two-hitter, striking out 12 in Liggett’s 5-0 victory over Gladstone (29-8).
Liggett (24-9) will face Homer (32-3) in the championship game Saturday at 2:30 p.m., trying to become the fourth Catholic League team to win the Division 3 title in as many years. Liggett won the title in 2016, Madison Heights Bishop Foley followed in 2017 and Riverview Gabriel Richard last season.
Liggett coach Dan Cimini decided after Liggett won the state title in ’16 — its fourth championship in six years — that his team should compete in Division 1. Liggett advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals in 2017, losing to eventual champion Saline, then lost to eventual Division 1 state champ Grosse Pointe South in last year’s districts.
Cimini made sure his hitters were aggressive at the plate Friday.
“We knew their pitcher (Carson Shea) pounded the strike zone so we weren’t going to just give up on strikes,” he said. “We were going to come up there swinging and that’s what we did, and I thought we hit the ball pretty well.”
King’s homer was one of nine Liggett hits; Azar and Nick Post had two apiece.
“Logan King, I told him that if anyone has the power to hit one out of here he does, and he smoked that ball and that really got us going,” Cimini said. “He hit it really good and we needed that."
King, who will be Liggett’s starting pitcher in the championship game, said the pitch he hit for his home run was in his wheelhouse.
“It was a 2-0 count and I was looking for one pitch in the perfect spot that I love to hit and I got it right there, and I just took the biggest swing at it and ended up crushing it,” said King. “It was fastball about middle inside and just really right on the perfect plane for me.”
Liggett added on to its lead with three in the third for a 5-0 lead. Billy Kopicki led off with a walk and moved to second on Kellen Banaszewski’s bunt single. Both runners moved up on Zelenak’s groundout and Kopicki scored on King’s groundout.
Then, Liggett scored two unearned runs when Azar reached safely on an error to score Banaszewski and Post’s drive went over the head of the left fielder to score Banaszewski.
Azar struck out the side again in the third and then stranded a runner, who reached safely on an error, on second in the fourth when he had a strikeout and groundout to end the inning.
Azar enjoyed the lead.
“That was a big confidence boost and I just told my guys we can’t stop, we have to keep going,” said Azar, who plans to walk on at Michigan. “I thought I had pretty good command of my fastball and definitely my slider was my best pitch today. I pounded the outer half of the zone and kept it low and got some strikeouts with it.”
Azar, who entered the game with an 11-3 record and 1.46 ERA, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning when Shea singled with two outs.
“When you have a guy like that (Azar) on the mound and you’ve got the lead it’s kind of suffocating on the other team,” Cimini said. “He just filled up the strike zone and did what he had to do, mixed up his pitches well and did a really good job. I couldn’t be more proud of him or the team.”
Homer 2, Pewamo-Westphalia 1 (9 innings)
Junior Jacob Wilson hit a line drive down the third-base line with the bases loaded and no outs to give Homer a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth Friday.
The team each scored in the second and then were silent until the ninth, when Homer had a leadoff walk by Zach Butters, who took second on Kyle Compton’s single to center. Both moved up on Angelo Lerma’s bunt single to set the table for Wilson.
After falling behind 1-2 in the count, Wilson took a ball and then smashed a 2-2 pitch right down the line to start a wild celebration.
“That was pretty fun,” said Wilson. “It was insane. Nobody really expected it because we didn’t hit all game and then it all came together.”
“It was an unbelievable baseball game,” said Homer coach Scott Salow, who celebrated his 50th birthday with the win. “It’s unfortunate that someone has to lose a game like that. I don’t know how many chances they had with leadoff guys on. It seems like we were fighting fires most of the game, especially in the middle innings on.”
As for Wilson’s performance, Salow said: “I don’t think he’ll forget that one anytime soon. No question, that was by far his biggest moment. It was a clutch hit.”
Pewamo-Westphalia actually had a chance to end the game in the eighth when it had runners on second and third before Butters got a strikeout to get out of the jam.
Butters went the final 2.1 innings to earn the win after replacing Wilson, who limited P-W to one run on six hits and two walks while striking out five in 6.2 innings.
Brendan Thelen was the starter for P-W, giving up one run on two hits and three walks. Tyler Nurenberg took the loss.
All games at McLane Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
Rockford 3, Macomb Dakota 2 (8 innings)
Portage Northern 3, Birmingham Brother Rice 0
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's 10, Muskegon Oakridge 0
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 3, Trenton 2
Final: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Homer 2, Pewamo-Westphalia 1 (9 innings)
Grosse Pointe Liggett 5, Gladstone 0
Final: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Petersburg Summerfield 5, Gaylord St. Mary 0
Saginaw Nouvel 4, Decatur 2
Final: Saturday, 5 p.m.