Azar’s shutout leads Liggett past Sterling Heights Stevenson, into Division 1 semifinals
Detroit – After winning four baseball state championships in the past six seasons – two in Division 4 and two in Division 3 – Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, looking to tackle another challenge as the Knights made the move up to Division 1 before the start of the 2017 season.
With the move up to Division 1, the expectations have remained the same and so far, the Knights remained unfazed by the challenges of playing at a higher level heading into Tuesday’s quarterfinal against Sterling Heights Stevenson.
Liggett opened up the game with two first inning runs and behind a complete game shutout from sophomore Alex Azar, the Knights would pick up a 6-0 win to advance to the semifinals at Michigan State once again.
In the Division 1 semifinals, Liggett (33-4) will face Saline, who defeated Holt, 3-2, in its quarterfinal game on Tuesday afternoon.
Liggett head coach Dan Cimini credited his sophomore starter for his performance and also added that Tuesday’s win was the biggest in his program’s history, which includes the four state championship wins the Knights have accumulated in recent years.
“I knew with Alec on the mound and if we scored some runs, we could compete and beat that team and we did,” he said. “This is the biggest win in the program’s history – forget about the state championships – to jump up to Division 1 and be in the final four with three other great teams in Division 1 and we have a school of 270 kids, it’s magical. It’s something that I believed in or I wouldn’t have done it. These guys believed in it and we’re probably the only people here believed in it. I’m sure there’s a lot of our parents who were wondering, what are we doing? But you know what, we’re here, we’ve got a great chance and anything can happen. There’s four great teams in the final four and one great team’s going to win it.”
Liggett wasted little time getting on the board in the first inning as an RBI double off the bat of Noah Miller and an RBI single from Teddy Wujek would put the Knights on top, 2-0, early.
Azar admitted he was nervous heading into Tuesday’s game, but getting the early run support helped him settle down and was able to pitch his game.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I was a little nervous coming out there and once we got those runs, I kind of was able to relax, I got comfortable and I started to throw my pitches.”
After adding another run with the help of an error, Liggett would all but put the game out of reach in the sixth as an RBI bunt single by Wujek would push the lead to 4-0 and shortly after, a double from Jackson Walkowiak would score another run to make it 5-0. Liggett’s third run of the inning would score after Stevenson’s third error of the day.
Stevenson skipper Joe Emanuele said that he felt that his team didn’t have its best day defensively, but also credited Azar and the Liggett defense for keeping his team off the board.
“They’re a very good team, we knew that,” he said. “They have a great infield, I thought we put the ball in play well, but we knew they were a team that would make most of the plays. We picked a bad time not to play well defensively, but when you bow out, that’s usually what you’re looking at and we’ve still got to score runs to win and you’ve got to give credit to their pitcher.”
Azar scattered just three hits for the game, while shutting Stevenson out over seven innings to earn his ninth win of the season.
“Azar was amazing,” Cimini said. “We talked about it all year long, if he sticks to the game plan, we pitch backwards on some teams, get them mixed up a little bit, get them out on their front foot. That’s a very, very good baseball team over there with a lot of class and a lot of really good players and we couldn’t just let them tee off on fastballs, we had to keep them off balance all day and when we did, they just played great defense.”