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Loss in state final hardly dampens brilliant ride that was 2012 season

By: Mike Moore | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 21, 2012

 Liggett catcher Nate Gaggin tags a Decatur runner out at home during the D-4 final. The Knights fell one game short of repeating as champs.

Liggett catcher Nate Gaggin tags a Decatur runner out at home during the D-4 final. The Knights fell one game short of repeating as champs.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

For two seasons, it was an unending display of dominance.

More often than not, it looked so easy — a flawless, brilliant effort resulting in countless wins from one game to the next.

In 2011, the Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett baseball team did exactly what so many had predicted: It ended the spring on top of the Division 4 mountaintop.

In 2012, the Knights defied reason, ignored youth, climbed right back to the summit, and in the words of their coach, “overachieved in every way.”

“I told them before the (state championship) game even started, win or lose, I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve done,” skipper Dan Cimini said moments after falling 4-1 to Decatur High in a June 16 final at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek. “I’m so proud of these guys. To get here once is hard enough, but to lose six seniors and come back with such a young team is just amazing.”

Last year’s squad finished 30-4, ending with a 5-1 win against Merrill High in the championship game.

But when the celebration ended, reality suggested a step back, maybe even a slight rebuild. Six seniors, a majority of the starting lineup, had played their final game in red, white and blue.

Yet, when camp broke in 2012, Cimini had an unwavering belief in his group.

Sure, there were just two seniors on the roster — Michael Meyering and Alex Daar — but Daar was one of the best pitchers in the state.

Yes, the team had eight sophomores and freshmen, but age hardly seemed to be a factor when playing as a single unit.

So play they did, and win they would — a lot.

By the time the postseason began, Liggett was 19-3, ranked No. 1 in D-4 and now expected by many to defend its title.

The guys needed six innings to win two district games, and after a scare against Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (3-1 win) in the regional opener, they rolled past Royal Oak Shrine in the final 12-0.

Daar struck out 11 hitters in a 5-3 quarterfinal victory against New Lothrup, and once back in Battle Creek, the Knights shuffled into the final on the heels of a 15-3, five-inning victory against Rudyard High.

“We were probably a year ahead of schedule,” Cimini said with a smile. “But we had Alex Daar, the best pitcher I’ve ever coached, and these guys believed in themselves and in what we were coaching. They believed we would get back here.”

Facing a 35-6 Decatur team that was ranked No. 2 in D-4 was, by far, the toughest challenge Liggett had seen all year.

The Knights opened the scoring in the second inning when Nick Azar came home on a single from Patrick Broder. In a move that seemed to change the complexion of the game, though, Liggett eventually loaded the bases in the frame, but led just 1-0 by the time the inning was over.

Decatur responded with two runs in the third and two more in the fourth, and Liggett (25-4) never seriously threatened again.

“We just lost to a great baseball team today,” said Daar, who took the loss on the mound, ending his season with a 16-1 record, despite allowing just six hits and striking out five.

Daar was emotional as he spoke of the 2012 team.

“I give all the credit in the world to these guys,” he said. “Everyone pinched in. That’s the only reason we made it here. The young guys stepped up and played like seniors. I’m so proud of this team.”

Asked what he thought of the future, Daar didn’t hesitate.

“These guys will be back here,” he said. “No doubt about it.”

“That’s the goal,” Cimini said looking to the future. “We’ve raised the level of expectation within this program to where we think it should be. We want to end every year here.”