In Play with Tom Markowski

Northville, Saline win Division 1 semifinals setting up an intriguing final

Baseball   | Tom Markowski

Northville, Saline win Division 1 semifinals setting up an intriguing final

East Lansing – If experience is the determining factor, Saline should have no problem defeating Northville in Saturday’s 9 a.m. Division 1 final.

But this is baseball and the popular opinion is that this sport is the most difficult to win. The argument made in support of this premise is that more often than not the best team does not win the state title, especially at the Division 1 level.

Get Saline coach Scott Theisen is a dark room with no microphone or tape recorder and he’ll agree. In public he’ll say another. After all, one must keep it in perspective. It’s a game. Nothing more. It’s just that some carry more meaning than others.

Saline (38-3) and Northville (30-10) easily advanced past the semifinal round. Saline defeated Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 12-0, in five innings and Northville bested Grand Haven, 9-1, on Thursday at McLane Stadium on Michigan State’s campus.

Cole Daniels, nursing what apparently was a sore arm, pitched well for Saline allowing one hit, one walk and striking out three in four innings.

Saline scored five runs in the first inning off of starter Anthony George, the winning pitcher in last season’s Division 3 semifinal, and coasted. The Hornets had 14 hits and five players had at least two. Catcher Sean O’Keefe led the way with three hits and four RBI. Ethan Collick and Ted Eppinga each had two hits and two RBI.

Senior lefthander Connor Ziparo (7-2) went all seven innings for Northville. He allowed four hits and one walk, and never ran into serious trouble.

The Mustangs scored twice in the first on Jake Moody’s two-run single then broke the game open with a three-run fifth.

Grand Haven (24-16), which had never won a regional until this season, trailed 9-0 before scoring an unearned run in the seventh.

For Northville Saturday’s final will be a first. It’s only other semifinal appearance came in 1972.

For Saline it will be another shot at redemption. The Hornets are 0-5 in championship games. No other team has lost as many as four Division 1/Class A title games. Birmingham Brother Rice and Royal Oak Kimball are the only teams to lose three times in a championship game at this level.

Often a coach can point to that face that this is a new season. That the players are different and each season is different.

Yes and no as far as Saline is concerned. Last season the Hornets lost to Warren DeLaSalle, 7-6, in the final. Saline was favored to win that game it will be favored to defeat Northville.

As well it should be. Saline has been and is one of the state’s top programs. Theisen is one of the state’s best coaches. As many as nine of his players are likely to go on to play in college.

Again, the best team doesn’t always win and that’s why this game is so important to Saline no matter what anyone says. It’s tough getting to a state final. Some of Theisen’s best teams never got here. Even if Northville wins most will say Saline was the better team throughout the season. Just not on this day.

The people who know high school baseball in this state, coaches like Dan Griesbaum of Grosse Pointe South, Larry Tuttle of Blissfield, John Kostrzewa of Northville (who won his 350th game on Thursday) and many, many more understand that Theisen doesn’t have anything to prove. Reaching a state final six times is proof enough.

To some the perception is that to be considered a great team that team needs to win that last one. People can believe what they want to believe. Ever since 1998 when Saline reached its first final Theisen’s program has been among the elite.

A championship would add to the program’s legacy. Another championship game loss would not take away from Theisen and his coaches have already accomplished.

Look at coach Dan Cimini’s University Liggett team. The Knights have won four state titles under Cimini, two in Division 4 and two in Division 3. Why do you think Cimini opted to play in Division 1 this season and next? Easy. He wants his teams to compete against the best in the state tournament. Cimini said this team was his best. Some might scoff at that but look closer. His team defeated the Macomb Area Conference White Division (Grosse Pointe North) and Red Division (Sterling Heights Stevenson) champions in the tournament. What’s more impressive, defeating Decatur in a Division 3 final or what University Liggett accomplished this season?

Again, you can come to your own conclusions but Cimini has no second thoughts on moving up even though his team didn’t win a state title.

 “It’s a big game for us, it’s big for Northville,” Theisen said. “It’s not any bigger than the other five.”

Just what we needed to hear.