East Lansing — So, what’s the recipe for defeating arguably the team of the decade?
Well, if you are Homer, then it’s jumping on Grosse Pointe Liggett for four runs in the opening inning, taking advantage of opportunities early to get the momentum.
And, that’s exactly what Homer (33-3) did Saturday afternoon in the Division 3 state championship game at McLane Stadium, defeating Liggett, 4-0.
Liggett (24-10) had won four state championships this decade, the last coming in 2016 in Division 3.
Liggett looked like it would be the overwhelming favorite after dominating Gladstone 5-0 in Friday’s semifinal while Homer needed extra innings to punch its ticket to the title game with a 2-1 win over Pewamo-Westphalia.
No doubt, the two coaches know all about each other, longtime friends and both survivor of heart attacks, a reason Liggett played Homer in a special game to benefit the Michigan Veterans Foundation and American Heart Association at Comerica Park two years ago.
Homer coach Scott Salow underwent double-bypass surgery in 2009, Liggett's Dan Cimini suffered a major heart attack two years later and had heart surgery as well.
So, yes Salow and Cimini were thrilled to be guiding their respective teams regardless of what the outcome would be.
It was Salow’s third state championship, but first since 2006 when it won the Division 4 title and was in the midst of a national record 75-game winning streak, a reason the entire team was inducted into the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame.
“First time since 2006, to beat a team like Liggett in the finals, great respect for their program and Dan’s a good friend of mine,” Salow said in the postgame news conference. “Who would have thought that four runs in the first inning would hold up. Just a gutsy performance, defensive-effort plays, just super proud of them.”
Homer jumped on Liggett senior right-hander Logan King in the first inning after Damaso LeBron walked and T.J. VanderKuyl beat out a bunt. They moved to second and third on a sacrifice bunt and King intentionally walked Seth Deigert to load the bases.
Then, Kyle Compton followed with a two-run double and Jacob Wilson contributed a two-out, two-run single to left.
“We’re not a good team from when we’re behind,” Cimini said. “Frontrunners, we’re unbelievable, but when we’re behind it’s tough to scratch and claw. We just didn’t do it today and that’s OK, that’s baseball.
“I tip my hat to Scott and his boys. They played phenomenal."
Homer senior Zach Butters, who worked the final 2⅓ innings in the semifinal win Friday, started in the title game and worked out of trouble in the fourth and again in the sixth.
In the fourth, Butters struck out Alec Azar and Nick Post with runners on first and second.
Then, in the sixth, Butters got Azar to line out to left with runners on first and second with one out and left fielder Dylan Warner made a diving catch, then got up and fired a strike to second for the double play.
“He’s a big game pitcher, a senior and we wanted him on the mound,” said Salow of Butters. “T.J. did a great job and how fitting is it that Zach fields that last ball as a senior.”
Butters moved to shortstop when VanderKuyl replaced him on the mound with one out in the seventh after Butters opened the inning by striking out Post before beaning Liggett catcher Patrick Ilitch with his maximum pitch count 105th pitch.
VanderKuyl walked Terence O’Brien to put runners on first and second before getting Mickey Walkowiak on a fielder’s choice and Billy Kopicki on a fielder’s choice to Butters at short to end the game.
“It means a lot,” said Butters of the state title. “It’s just a great feeling, overwhelming to win it with my guys. I just executed my pitches."
And, on Warner’s great catch?
“I knew it was going to be a close one,” said Butters, who gave up five hits and two walks while striking out six. “Dylan was out there running and he laid out like Superman and came up with it. It was a great play.”
Azar had high praise for Butters, who finished the season with an 11-1 record with a sub-1.00 ERA.
“He was just pounding the outer half of the zone and he kept us off balance with his off- speed pitches,” Azar said. “We hit the ball pretty well, but they made some good plays too."