Baseball Finals: Here Comes the Hit Parade

June 14, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

More than half of the teams in this weekend's MHSAA Baseball Finals field will play their first Semifinals ever Friday at Battle Creek's Bailey Park – including three teams each in Divisions 1 and 2. 

But will one also win its first championship? That's a tougher question to answer, especially with reigning Division 3 champ Madison Heights Bishop Foley and Division 4 winner Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett also back and looking like favorites again.

Below is this weekend's schedule, followed by a look at each of the 16 teams that will be playing. Tickets cost $7 per round or $15 for an all-tournament ticket that includes admission to softball games. All Finals also will be streamed live online at and

Semifinals - Friday

Division 1 
Warren DeLaSalle vs. Howell - Morrison Field, Noon
Hudsonville vs. Saline - Nichols Field, 1 p.m.

Division 2 
St. Joseph vs. Bay City John Glenn - C.O. Brown Stadium, 2 p.m.
Dearborn Divine Child vs. Grand Rapids Christian - Morrison Field, 3 p.m.

Division 3 
Saginaw Nouvel vs. Madison Heights Bishop Foley - Nichols Field, 4 p.m.
Mancelona vs. Lansing Catholic - C.O. Brown Stadium, 5 p.m.

Division 4
GPW University Liggett vs. Rudyard - Nichols Field, 10 a.m.
Muskegon Catholic Central vs. Decatur - C.O. Brown Stadium, 11 a.m.

Finals - Saturday
Division 4 - 9:30 a.m.
Division 1 - 12:30 p.m.
Division 2 - 3:30 p.m.
Division 3 - 6:30 p.m.

Statistics below are through teams' Regional tournaments. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)

Division 1

Record/rank: 30-10, unranked
Coaches: Jason Ladd and Mike Weatherly (first seasons)
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: RF sr. Brandon Risacher (.440, 16 2B, 24 SB), P sr. Josh Vyletel (14-2, 1.92 ERA), CF sr. Greg Cauley (.396, 19 RBI).
Outlook: The Highlanders are making their first trip to the MHSAA Semifinals, but have seen plenty of strong competition on the way with wins over No. 1 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, No. 3 Northville and formerly ranked Holt. Every starter but one is hitting at least .325.

Record/rank: 31-5, No. 6
Coach: Dave Van Noord, 18th season (403-177)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Red
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: 2B sr. Brandon Cable (.461, 29 RBI, 10 SB), P sr. Blake Hibbitts (9-0, 1.33 ERA, 63 K in 52.7 IP), 1B sr. Hunter Prince (.387, 13 2B, 28 RBI).
Outlook: Hudsonville also is making its first trip to the Semifinals, and has the luxury of multiple aces to throw at the competition this weekend. The 6-foot-6 Hibbitts has emerged this fall, and pairs with returning all-stater Tyler Baar (8-2, 2.41 ERA) for an outstanding one-two punch.

Record/rank: 30-10, No. 9
Coach: Scott Theisen, 20th season (510-213)
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference Red
Championship history: Four Division 1 runner-up finishes (most recently 2010)
Players to watch: 1B/P sr. Justin Goike (.389, 39 RBI, 8-1, 1.21 ERA), SS sr. Austin Hauck (.345, 10 2B, 39 RBI), CF jr. Gage Hammond (.381, 9 3B, 19 SB).
Outlook: Saline is hoping to finish off its first title run after ending as runner-up in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Six more regulars hit at least .300, including freshman designated hitter Trent Theisen (.386). Senior Brent Vaccaro and sophomore Michael Hendrickson both also had won six games on the mound entering this week, both with sub-2.00 ERAs for the season.

Record/rank: 19-22-1, unranked
Coach: Matt Cook, second season (38-41-1)
League finish: Fifth in Detroit Catholic High School League Central
Championship history: Three MHSAA championships (most recently 2009)
Players to watch: P/1B/3B sr. Kevin Carroll (.333, 25 RBI, 6-2, 2.00 ERA), 1B jr. Cole Clifton (.389, 12 2B, 39 RBI), CF sr. Reed Carnagie (.300, 31 RBI).
Outlook: DeLaSalle likely will be considered the surprise of this weekend’s field, but consider a few things. The Pilots have a championship history, with two of their three titles coming over the last 12 seasons. And they play in the Detroit Catholic League, which featured top-ranked Brother Rice and annually is one of the most competitive in the state.  

Division 2

Record/rank: 34-7, No. 3
Coach: Jeff Hartt, 28th season (601-316)
League finish: John Glenn does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: IF sr. Chase Krager, P jr. Zach Olszewski. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Bay City John Glenn got Coach Hartt his 600th win in the Regional final, and now has made it to the Semifinals for the first time. Krager and Olszewski were all-state second-team picks last season and are two of five seniors on the team. All of them start.

22-15, unranked
Coach: Tony DeMare, 13th season (357-138)
League finish: Tied for second in Detroit Catholic High School League Central
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recently 2010)
Players to watch: SS sr. Randy Kuzdak (.348, 23 RBI), 2B sr. Justin Williams (.369, 24 RBI), 1B jr. Zack Schmidtke (.342, 21 RBI, 5-5, 2.55 ERA).
Outlook: Divine Child has won four of the last eight Division 2 championships, and like Warren DeLaSalle above plays a tough brand of competition – seven of those losses came against foes that either were ranked or made the Semifinals as well. Senior Justin Chandler (6-3, 2.25 ERA) likely will draw Friday’s start and is one of four pitchers with at least four wins.

Record/rank: 34-5, No. 2
Coach: Brent Gates, fifth season (133-44)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent White
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up in 2011 and 2005.
Players to watch: IF/P sr. Kurt Hoekstra (.492, 6 3B, 41 RBI), P sr. David VanVliet (7-0, 0.95 ERA, .328), IF sr. Taylor Pruis (.369, 9 2B, 33 RBI, 26 SB).
Outlook: All but one starter from last season’s MHSAA Final line-up is back for Grand Rapids Christian, and eight starters are hitting .325 or better. Depth also is on the Eagles' side – nine pitchers have won games this season and combined for a 2.13 ERA, and Hoekstra is 3-0 with four saves.

Record/rank: 32-9, No. 10
Coach: Eric Danapilis, fourth season (110-46)
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: OF sr. Jacob Fratzke (.330, 46 R, 31 RBI), P soph. Charles Fleenor (7-0, 0.95 ERA, .326), 3B soph. Anthony Montoya (.458, 17 2B, 51 RBI).
Outlook: This is St. Joseph’s second trip to the Semifinals, and first since 1981. Six seniors start for the Bears, with Fratzke and shortstop Nick Lawrence both earning all-state first-team selections last season. St. Joseph edged No. 1 Richland Gull Lake 6-5 in the Regional semifinal on the way to Battle Creek.

Division 3

Record/rank: 30-6, unranked
Coach: Mike Scott, fourth season (73-58-3)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Championship history: Class C champion 1996.
Players to watch: C/P sr. Mike DeClarke (.368, 22 RBI, 6-0, 1.70 ERA), CF jr. Adam Babcock (.449, 39 R, 31 SB), P sr. Dillon Rush (10-1, 0.52 ERA, .406, 33 RBI).
Outlook: Scott has built the Cougars back up from a nine-win season in 2009 to its third District title under him and first trip to the Semifinals since 1997. Lansing Catholic opened this season with a sweep over Semifinalist Saginaw Nouvel Catholic and beat No. 7 Parchment in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal. First baseman Jimmy Maher rounds out a small but talented senior class.

Record/rank: 36-3, No. 1
Coach: Buster Sunde, fourth season (132-23)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League AA
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2011, Class B runner-up 1990.
Players to watch: C sr. Brett Sunde, 3B jr. Billy Malak. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Graduating four all-staters after last season hasn’t slowed the Ventures, whose losses were to Division 1 Lake Orion and Detroit Catholic Central, and Allen Park Cabrini. Brett Sunde has signed with Western Michigan University, but also was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 35th round of last week’s Major League draft.

Record/rank: 29-5, No. 10
Coach: Jim VanWagoner, ninth season (177-85)
League finish: First in Ski Valley Conference
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: P/IF sr. Craig Conway (.460, 16 2B, 32 RBI, 14-1, 1.79 ERA, 106 K in 85 IP), CF jr. Wyatt Derrer (.414, 28 RBI, 45 SB, 34 R), C fr. Cole VanWagoner (.412, 25 R, 20 RBI).
Outlook: Mancelona is headed to the Semifinals for the second year in a row and the second time ever, but has been building toward this with four straight District and six straight league championships. The Ironmen look especially dangerous if they win Friday, with freshman Brandon Dingman (9-1, 2.22) also strong on the hill this season.

Record/rank: 29-9, unranked
Coach: Dave Horny, sixth season
League finish: Nouvel does not play in a league.
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recently 2005), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: P sr. Joe Buchalski (.385, 12 2B, 26 RBI, 8-2, 0.54 ERA, 104 K in 52 IP), 1B sr. Josh Buchalski (.367, 10 SB, 6-0, 1.04 ERA, 76 K in 54 IP), LF sr. Mike Albosta (.367, 11 SB, 27 R).
Outlook: Nouvel might be unranked, but owns wins against Division 1 No. 4 Bay City Western and Division 2 No. 3 Bay City John Glenn among other larger opponents it faced this spring. The Panthers won their first Regional title since 2007 and have the pitching to finish this weekend with one more championship – junior Drew King also is 6-0 this season, with a 2.05 ERA.

Division 4

34-6, No. 2
Coach: Ben Botti, 18th season (376-180)
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recently 2003), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: 3B sr. Stephen Botti (.322, 23 SB, 26 RBI, 8-2, 1.39 ERA), SS sr. Theodore Rufo (.514, 13 2B, 7 3B, 31 RBI, 38 SB), P sr. J.T. Kawaski (.328, 28 RBI, 9-1, 1.01 ERA, 81 K in 62.3 IP), 1B/P jr. Tim Cerven (9-0, 1.31 ERA, 94 K in 64 IP, .363, 34 R).
Outlook: This is Decatur’s first Semifinal appearance since 2003, which it finished with a second-straight MHSAA title. Botti, Rufo and Kawaski all were all-state first-teamers after last season’s run to the Quarterfinals, and they are only three of eight starters batting .320 or better.

Record/rank: 24-3, No. 1
Coach: Dan Cimini, ninth season (240-50)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recently 2011), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Alexander Daar (15-0, 0.10 ERA, 153 K in 85 IP, .551, 38 RBI), 3B soph. Anthony Simon (.515, 26 RBI, 25 R), CF jr. Mark Evan Auk (.500, 33 R, 18 RBI, 4-2).
Outlook: University Liggett is three respectable losses from a perfect record – the Knights fell to Division 2 No. 5 Mount Pleasant, Semifinalist Dearborn Divine Child, and Division 1 Grosse Pointe North. Daar was an all-stater last season and has been nearly unhittable. Junior Connor Fannon also is a returning all-state first-teamer and is hitting .636 in limited at bats.

Record/rank: 26-8, unranked
Coach: Steve Schuitema, fourth season (77-37)
League finish: Second in River Valley Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: SS sr. Connor Seymour (.443, 36 R, 8-2, 1.95 ERA, 70 K in 52.7 IP), 1B/P fr. Nick Holt (9-2, 1.63), CF sr. Jason Ribecky (.400, 11 SB, 31 RBI).
Outlook: Despite an 8-1 start, MCC lost two of four games at the end of the regular season. But the Crusaders rebounded quickly and beat No. 5 Beal City on the way to the Semifinals. Four seniors start, but so do four underclassmen. Ribecky also was the star of the boys basketball team that made that Finals weekend in March.

Record/rank: 20-16, unranked
Coach: Ron VanSloten, 19th season (375-159-3)
League finish: Fifth in the Straits Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: C sr. Tyler Wilson (.495, 14 2B, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 20 SB), SS/P Brady VanSloten (.379, 38 R, 15 SB, 7-4, 1.75 ERA), 1B jr. Justin Kruger (.360, 20 RBI).
Outlook: Despite a fifth-place league finish and the graduation of two all-staters after last season, Rudyard is back at Bailey Park for the first time since 2007 and has won at least 20 games for the seventh straight season. After dropping four of their last eight regular-season games, the Bulldogs have won their postseason games by an average of 8.4 runs per.

PHOTO: Madison Heights Bishop Foley's Brett Kunde takes a swing during last season's Division 3 Final. Kunde will return to Bailey Park on Friday, and last week was drafted by the Oakland Athletics.

Vast Experience Shapes Retired MLB-er Gates Into 3-Time Finals-Winning Coach

By Steve Vedder
Special for

August 1, 2023

If there is anything that Brent Gates knows for sure, it's that there is no single explanation for three MHSAA Finals baseball championships.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.For starters, the Grand Rapids Christian coach credits the superior coaching he had as a youngster, especially for helping him make the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Dream Team in 1988.

From there, Gates points to the experience gained as a former Big 10 Baseball Player of the Year, a seven-year major league playing career that saw him rubbing shoulders with such notables as Hall-of-Famer Tony LaRussa and Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, and then landing at a high school where the critical support he received from players, community and administration was priceless.

Put it all together and that, at least in part, explains Gates becoming the first Grand Rapids-area baseball coach with three state titles on his resume.

The Eagles' 2-1 win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the June 17 Division 2 Final marked Gates' third title as a coach. His Grand Rapids Christian clubs had previously won back-to-back titles in 2012-13.

Gates passed former Grandville Calvin Christian coach Jay Milkamp as the Grand Rapids-area coach with the most state titles. Milkamp won in 1994 (Class C) and 1996 (Class B).

Gates, a member of three Halls of Fame, is quick to deflect the credit for three championships and two other championship game appearances. What he treasures most is being mentioned in the same breath as other legendary west-side coaches such as Jenison's Gary Cook, Ron Engels of Wyoming Park, Hudsonville's Dave Van Nord, East Grand Rapids' Chris LaMange, formerly Rockford and now Ada Forest Hills Eastern's Ian Hearn and Milkamp, most of whom Gates either played against while an all-stater at Grandville or through coaching at Grand Rapids Christian.

"I'm just a small piece of what has transpired in 11 years," he said. "Just to be mentioned with them and their success is an honor. (Three titles) is not an individual thing, but because of many people and what they can do working day in and day out together.

"I've always said the west side doesn't get the recognition it should in baseball. There are some great coaches here with great baseball talent, and I think you see that in the postseason."

If basketball can spawn what is affectionately known as "gym rats," then Gates is surely a classic example of the diamond's version of someone who has lived and breathed baseball his entire life. He was a two-time all-stater at Grandville who went on to a standout career at the University of Minnesota that included a lifetime .387 batting average. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1991 and consensus All-American. Gates played internationally with USA Baseball on the 18U team in 1988 and then the collegiate national team in 1989 and 1990. Over those two seasons on the collegiate team he appeared in 68 games, hitting a combined .363 with 49 runs scored and 54 RBIs.

He was drafted by the Oakland A's in the first round (26th overall) of the 1991 draft and went on to hit .264 in 685 major league games over seven seasons.

Gates makes a tag at second base while playing for the national team.Upon his retirement, Gates founded the Frozen Ropes training facility in Grand Rapids, worked as a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays, became the West Michigan Whitecaps' second-ever manager in 2001, coached Byron Center for two years and has compiled a remarkable 298-89 record in two coaching stints at Grand Rapids Christian.

After virtually a lifetime in baseball, Gates said his coaching success can be spread in many directions. He said it began at Grandville, was influenced by such managers as John Anderson at Minnesota and LaRussa and Kelly at the major league level, and with brushing shoulders with many of Grand Rapids' most successful coaches.

The experience led him to a coaching philosophy that includes a priority on building relationships with players, providing a full explanation of his thinking to the players, a quiet but firm coaching of fundamentals, and, above all, communication. If there is anything that Gates does not do, it's relying on the "old-school" coaching method where coaches demand excellence in no uncertain terms.

"I've taken little bits and pieces from a lot of people," said Gates, a member of the Grandville, University of Minnesota and Grand Rapids Halls of Fame. "I want players to figure out who they can be. Whether it's Ken Griffey Jr. as a hitter, Randy Johnson as a pitcher or Terry Steinbach in catching, you don't just take one person and say who can I be? If you want to compete at a high level, you need to be better than anyone you go up against.

"Part of being a good coach, and it doesn't matter if it's a 9U program or high school, is about making players understand and be able to apply what they learn. Baseball is a hard game, one of failure where if you succeed three times out of 10, you're a star. You have to get players to understand failure."

Gates said all three Grand Rapids Christian champions were marked by different strong suits. The 2012 club, for example, breezed its way to a 36-5 record, while the 2013 club finished the regular season just 12-15 but put together a torrid seven-game winning streak during the tournament. This year's team was marked by a deep pitching staff and what Gates describes as a "group of gamers."

"All of them were different, but I firmly believe that pitching and defense win championships," Gates said. "But you also have to get hot at the right time."

It's not unusual for major leaguers to completely hang up the spikes once their playing days are over. They're tired of the pressure, the frustration of fading talent and losing the battle with Father Time, and the constant travel away from family. Gates faced all that and still found himself enthralled with the idea of coaching.

Gates presents the championship trophy this season to his Grand Rapids Christian players."I've loved the game since I was like 4 years old. There's nothing better than smelling pine tar or the look of manicured grass. The smells and sounds of baseball, that's what I love," he said.

One of his coaching goals is to impart the love of the game to his players. And it seems the message is getting across.

"It's awesome playing for him," said first baseman/pitcher Ty Uchman, who graduated this spring. "He gets us to focus on the little things. If there is something on our minds, we know we can go to him. He's an open book. I know he'll always talk to us, and that builds trust and a bond."

Another recent grad, infielder Kyle Remington, will follow Gates' footsteps to the University of Minnesota and said one particular trait sticks out to him about his coach.

"He's very patient," Remington said. "There are all levels of players in high school, and he treats them all the same. Doesn't matter if they're struggling; he never raises his voice. He's a very comfortable and relatable coach to play for.

"He knows baseball is a game of failure so if you don't understand a drill or an adjustment to have to make, he'll talk to you in a patient way."

Gates said he suspected even when he was a major leaguer that coaching was likely in his future.

"I did, and it was an easy decision. God has a plan, and I had a feeling I would stay in the game," he said. "Baseball has given me everything. I love the game, and I know I've been blessed. I want to take what I've learned and pass it along. That's always been a part of me."

2023 Made In Michigan

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July 18:
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July 12:
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July 6: 
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July 5:
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PHOTOS (Top) Brent Gates appears on the USA Baseball collegiate national team in 1989 and makes a pitching change during this spring’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Gates makes a tag at second base while playing for the national team. (Below) Gates presents the championship trophy this season to his Grand Rapids Christian players. (National team photos courtesy of USA Baseball.)