D4 Finalists Ride Pitching to Saturday

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 17, 2016

EAST LANSING – No one knows better how good of a pitcher Andrew Manier is than Sterling Heights Parkway Christian catcher Alex Julio.

“He was something special today,” Julio said. “He’s a good pitcher, and has been. But today he was special.”

Manier didn’t allow a hit until there was one out in the fourth inning, and the senior lefthander went the distance as Parkway Christian defeated reigning runner-up Centreville, 5-1, in a Division 4 Semifinal on Friday at McLane Stadium on Michigan State University’s campus.

The Eagles (22-11-1) will return to the Final for the first time since 2009 and play Portland St. Patrick (34-7) for the championship at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Neither school has won an MHSAA title in the sport.

Manier was never in serious trouble Friday. Parkway Christian scored four runs in the top of the first inning, and Manier did the rest. He walked two and struck out four, and the only inning he allowed two batters to reach base safely was the seventh when Centreville scored its run.

“In a big game like this you have to step up, calm your nerves,” Manier said. “I had two walks but I had great fielding behind me. The curve was working well. You have to keep the hitters off balance. I love the responsibility.”

The first inning gave Parkway Christian the 4-0 lead and momentum. Montana Essian executed a suicide squeeze that scored Manier, who doubled, for the first run. Julio followed with an RBI single and Jacob Bambrick had a two-run single.

Julio had another RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

Collin Kirby had an RBI single for Centreville (28-4).

The Bulldogs started Coletin Gascho on the mound but he lasted just one inning. Coach Mike Webster went with Alex Meyer for the final six.

Webster said Manier was one of the best pitchers his team had faced this season.

“He’s definitely top three,” Webster said. “He’s a competitive kid. That was the most talented team we’ve faced all year.”

Parkway Christian coach Rick Koch said this Semifinal victory was something that had been building for the past three years. The Eagles lost in the Quarterfinals in 2014 and reached a Regional Final last season.

“We thought we had the potential all three years,” he said. “We play for one run per inning. We know our pitching is solid. It is nice to get those four (runs). It helps to get the butterflies out.”

Click for the full box score.

Portland St. Patrick 2, Gaylord St. Mary 0

St. Patrick coach Bryan Scheurer went against conventional thinking and went with a freshman, and not his senior ace, in Friday’s Semifinal against Gaylord St. Mary.

Nathan Lehnert made his second cousin look like a genius, as Lehnert went six innings and allowed five hits, all singles, and walked only two.

St. Patrick will go for its first title after finishing runner-up (in Class D) in 1971, 1973 and 1993.

And Scheurer will start Travis Moyer against Parkway Christian. The Eagles are also expected to go with their ace, Riley McManus, in the final.

Moyer relieved Lehnert, walked the first batter and retired the next three in order.

“All he’s done as a freshman is to go 8-0 with an ERA of 1.00,” Scheurer said of Lehnert. “Some people say that was taking a risk. I don’t see it that way. To bring Travis back twice after three days’ rest was too much.”

Moyer went seven innings last Saturday in Regionals, then came back Tuesday and pitched seven innings in a 3-2 Quarterfinal victory over reigning Division 4 champion Muskegon Catholic Central.

“I talked to Travis and he said he was sore,” Scheurer said. “He said he’d go, but I looked at his body language.”

Dan Mackowiak’s bunt single scored Brendan Schrauben to give St. Patrick a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

St. Mary (31-6) loaded the bases with one out in the second before Lehnert struck out John Paul Zeilinski and got Ethan Szymanski to bounce into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

The Snowbirds also loaded the bases the next inning but couldn’t come through with a two-out hit. Adam Nowicki reached base on an error to start the inning, and when Mackowiak made a diving catch of Nicholas Torsky’s line drive in the next at-bat, the momentum stayed with the Shamrocks.

St. Patrick added a run in the fifth, and St. Mary left the bases loaded again in the sixth to end Lehnert’s day.

“We just went at it as any other game,” Lehnert said. “Our game is revolved around small ball.

“Nervous? Yes. When we started to make plays, I wasn’t so nervous.”

Torsky pitched well for St. Mary as he also gave up five singles and he walked three.

“We hit some hard balls,” St. Mary coach Matt Nowicki said. “And they made some great plays. That’s baseball.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Parkway Christian’s Andrew Manier prepares to unload a pitch during Friday’s Semifinal win over Centreville. (Middle) St. Patrick’s Nathan Lehnert makes his way toward the plate while pitching the Shamrocks to the Division 4 Final.

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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."

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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.)