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Early reports support University Liggett’s move up to Division 1

By: Jeff Dullack, May 4, 2017, 4:43 pm

Grosse Pointe Woods – Over the course of the past six years, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett has emerged as a state power on the baseball diamond, winning four state championships, two in Division 4 and two in Division 3, where the Knights have won titles in two out of the last three years.

University Liggett, a private school with less than 300 students, made the decision to move up and compete in Division 1, seeking to compete at a higher level in the state tournament.

Coach Dan Cimini said that he made the decision to make the move because he believes he has the team that can compete in any division.

“I think a lot of it has a lot to do with my personality,” he said. “I’m never satisfied. If I don’t have the team that could compete for a district, I wouldn’t even think about it. But we have the players who can compete and whether we win or not, we can compete. There’s no pressure on us, we’re a little school, everybody expects us to get knocked out and let them expect that. A lot of people are excited to see how it pans out.”

So far the move has proved to be a successful one. The Knights have made a statement by winning their first 15 games including a doubleheader sweep of Mount Pleasant, one of the state’s top programs.

University Liggett is ranked No. 3 in the latest coaches’ poll.

University Liggett could easily remained in Division 3 and be the heavy favorite to win a title on a year-in, year-out basis but Cimini knew his program was ready for a bigger challenge.

“They loved it,” he said. “I’ve been talking about this for years, been telling these guys that they can beat anybody and that I thought we were going up to Division 1. People asked why not stay in Division 3 and keep winning? But that doesn’t happen, so many things can happen. I don’t think like that. I want these kids to be the best that we can be on the field.”

The Knights return eight starters from last year’s state championship team including starting pitchers Anthony George (13-1 in 2016) and Matthew Gushee, who pitched a shutout in last year’s state final, and senior shortstop Connor McCarron.

McCarron, who collected three hits and two RBI in last year’s state championship game, was one of many players who supported the move up to Division 1, said that his team can and will be a legitimate contender this spring.

“We wouldn’t be moving up if we didn’t think we could make a run at winning the whole thing,” he said. “We embrace the hard work and everything that comes with it.”

Cimini said that the strong start has been important for his team and added that the Knights still face a tough schedule the rest of the way.

“It was very important,” he said. “One of the things we’ve always done in last 10-15 year is that we want to play the best teams in the state. We try to play everybody and that’s only made us a better team. It was really good to jump out and pay well against those teams. We started off the year against Detroit Western played really well against them as well and it was important for us to get out on a good note.”

For a program that has already established itself as one of the state’s elite, the strong start to the season is yet another confidence boost to an already confident team, according to McCarron.

“Yeah, it does,” McCarron said. “After those two wins (over Mt. Pleasant) on Saturday, we gained a ton of confidence and it proved ourselves. We want to prove to everyone that we’re here to win and that we can play with everyone else.”

When postseason play begins, University Liggett will potentially face a pair of challenges from its own backyard. The Knights are in a district with Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South, two successful programs that they haven’t played in recent years.

McCarron said that the opportunity to be in a district with its crosstown rivals is something that University Liggett is embracing as the teams will not only be playing for a chance to advance in the playoffs, but for bragging rights as well.

“It’s going to be huge,” he said. “Haven’t played them in a couple of years. Everyone on the team is looking forward to playing them. It’ll be a pretty good rivalry. We’re going out there to win and hopefully we come out on top.”

Cimini, who was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016, said that he’s looking forward to a friendly rivalry in the coming years against two other Hall of Fame coaches, North’s Frank Sumbera (inducted in 1990) and South’s Dan Griesbaum (inducted in 2008), who Cimini played for.

“It’s going to be great,” he said. “There’s bragging rights and it sets up for a good rivalry. However you look at it, I look at it as a great rivalry. Getting to play a mentor of mine (Griesbaum) and playing against a coach that’s done a great job.”

The goal for Cimini’s team remains what it’s been over the better part of the last decade, regardless of division, and that’s to win yet another state championship.

For McCarron this year’s potential playoff run will come with additional motivation, as he and the rest of the team are playing for the previous players and teams who helped put University Liggett on the map.

“The kids on the team now and myself have to give credit to the players who played before us,” he said. “They made it easy for us to buy into that culture and practice hard every day and go to the practices at 6 a.m. and now we have to finish their plans.”