Division 2 Team Of The Week: Week 5 - University Liggett

Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Michigan Senior Writer

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Division 2 Team Of The Week: Week 5 - University Liggett

GROSSE POINTE WOODS - What a week it was for University Liggett.

First, the Knights snapped the longest winning streak in Michigan high school baseball history. Liggett followed that up with a second consecutive 4-3 win to complete a sweep over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Dan Cimini’s squad then picked up its third straight walk-off win in a row with a 7-6 nine-inning victory over U of D Jesuit, giving the Liggett head coach his 500th career coaching win. The Prep Baseball Report Division 2 Team of the Week finished off the impressive stretch of games with an 11-1 mercy-rule win over U of D.

“It was our last shot until the Catholic League playoffs, if we play them there,” Cimini said of the desire to beat Orchard Lake. “The guys were amped up to get the win and prove they’re as good as anybody. Their program has been out of sight for 21/2 years, and everyone has been coming after them. We just did everything right, everything that was possible and we were successful doing it.”

After Blake Grimmer hit a home run to put Orchard Lake up 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Preston Barr produced a bases-loaded double over the center fielder’s head against Jasen Oliver, who had not surrendered a run all season, to give Liggett the win and end OLSM’s 84-game winning streak.

“It was so emotional, we were piling on each other like winning a state championship,” Cimini related.

Tied in the bottom of the seventh in game two, Neil Murphy walked, was bunted over by Joey Randazzo and, after an intentional walk to Jarren Purify, Oliver Service hit a game-winning single up the middle to plate Murphy.

“Everything counts is our motto,” Cimini explained. “You have to do that on and off the field. We try to be the best we can be and on that day we were.”

Admittedly, Cimini was uncertain how his team would play in the nightcap after ending the third longest winning streak in high school baseball history in the United States.

“It could have gone one of two ways,” reflected Cimini, whose team is 13-5 on the season entering this coming week of action. “We were so geeked, I didn’t know if we could bounce back mentally. But we had the same emotion, times 10. People can say you’re lucky if you beat them once, but if you beat them twice there’s no luck there.

“This gives us a lot of confidence that our program is good enough to do that. I tip my cap to Matt Petry and Orchard Lake. That’s never going to be done again, especially with everyone they take on, the best of the best. I’m proud of him and their program.”

In winning his 500th game as a head coach three days later, Cimini showed his approach to the game with a bases-loaded one-out suicide squeeze by Service with the game tied, giving the Knights the win in the last of the ninth.

“That’s my coaching style,” Cimini said. “I’m super aggressive. That win was very rewarding. We had a 5-3 lead in the seventh and then they tied it. Then they took the lead 6-5 in the top of the ninth but we scored two in the bottom.”

It was a memorable victory for Cimini, whose squad is now ranked third in the state in D-3 and eighth in the PBR Power 25 ratings.

“It’s a great milestone as a coach, but I don’t really look at that stuff,” Cimini said of win number 500. “Credit goes to all the kids that came through and built and shaped this program. I want to share it with everybody.”

Jackson Fetter threw five innings of one-hit ball with six strikeouts in the week’s finale against U of D, just one of a number of outstanding pitching performances according to the Liggett mentor.

Randazzo pitched 5.2 innings in the first game with OLSM before Barr came in to pick up the win. Reggie Sharpe was the game two starter with Tommy Schoeck entering in relief to get the victory.

“They all did a great job keeping Orchard Lake off balance and our defense made some plays,” Cimini noted. “Jarren Purify had some amazing plays at shortstop.”

Purify, a leadoff hitter committed to Clemson and the top-ranked senior in the state, has scored a team-high 21 runs with 10 stolen bases and 10 extra base hits including three home runs, batting .367. Sharpe, a junior committed to Michigan, leads the Knights with a .412 average while Barr, the top-rated 2024 third baseman in the state and another Michigan commit, is at .400 with 26 RBIs. Service is hitting .337 with five home runs and 21 RBIs with senior Jake Martin batting .333 while driving in 16 runs.

Cimini pointed to Service, a Texas commit, as the “team leader and vocal leader. He’s been amazing for us behind the plate. You’ve got to have a great catcher if you want a good team.”

Barr is 3-0 with a save and 1.40 ERA to lead the Liggett pitching staff with Sharpe now 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

“Risilency,” is how Cimini described what has stood out with his team, which lost number one pitcher Jack Jones to injury before the season started along with the transfer of one of the top players in the program.

“Guys have stepped up,” Cimini said. “We have a system here and I wanted these guys to see we can overcome adversity. I’m really proud of the way they’ve played the last four games. Some of our teams in the past wouldn’t have been able to battle back like that, but this team can.”

Life doesn't get easier this week with a doubleheader against DeLaSalle, the continuation of a game versus Catholic Central in which Liggett trails 6-0 in the second inning and a DH with Catholic Central a day later. The week concludes with two games on Saturday against Brother Rice.

“We’re a small school with only 150 boys, so playing the teams we play we have to stay healthy,” Cimini concluded. “We just have to battle and have fun, that’s the most important thing. These boys love each other.”