BATTLE CREEK — In game loaded with drama, lead changes and extra innings, it was ultimately an errant pick-off throw that decided the Division 4 baseball state championship Saturday night in Battle Creek.
And the Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett squad was more than happy to reclaim the top spot.
“The will to win, the will not to lose with these guys is unbelievable,” coach Dan Cimini said after the Knights beat Beal City High 3-2 in eight innings. “This game was unbelievable. I’m not going to sleep for two nights.”
After leading off the eighth inning with a single, Cole Zingas eventually reached third base and scored what turned out to be the game-winning run when Beal City’s pitcher tried to pick off Mark Evan Auk, who had reached base on an infield single, at first.
“Perseverance,” Cimini said to sum up the night. “The fight never stopped. These guys wouldn’t let this game go.”
The first five innings of the game produced plenty of chances, but no runs.
Beal City finally broke the tie in the bottom of the fifth, but Liggett bounced right back in the sixth.
Liggett's Patrick Broder reached base on an error to start the inning, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Zingas, and then scored to tie the game on a throwing error moments later.
Beal City escaped the inning without further damage, and came right back in the bottom half to make some noise.
Beal City's Nicholas Ward was hit by Liggett pitcher Connor Fannon with one out. Nick Hoogerhyde doubled, but Ward was held at third base.
After an intentional walk to load the bases, Liggett got a force out at home on a ground ball to short, and then Fannon got Ryan Marshall to pop out at second to end the threat, keeping the game tied at 1-1 through six.
Liggett didn’t keep it that way very long.
Fannon walked to begin the seventh, giving way to Ian Clark as a courtesy runner.
Another walk and a soft single loaded the bases, and Clark came home on a sacrifice fly shortly after.
But walks came back to haunt Fannon in the bottom half of the seventh.
Two walks, along with a single and a sacrifice bunt, loaded the bases, and then a walk of Hoogerhyde brought home the tying run.
Fannon struck out Ty Rollin to force extra innings.
Pitching with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Fannon struck out the first batter, Evan Auk made a diving catch in center for the second, and then catcher Nate Gaggin’s acrobatic catch in foul territory ended the game.
“I just said please, please, please catch it,” Cimini said of the foul ball that ended the game.
“I knew he had it,” said Fannon, who earned the win in the final and the semifinal the day before in a 1-0 contest against New Lothrop. “Well, I was hoping he had it. But this is amazing. To get that second championship is so awesome.”
Liggett (31-4), avenges last year’s loss in the state final, and how now won two titles (2011) in the past three years.
Beal City ends the season (34-4).
“It’s a shame somebody had to lose that game,” Cimini added. “It was unreal.”