First-Time Finalists Ride Pitching Power

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 12, 2015

EAST LANSING – The winning pitchers in the Division 4 Semifinals went all seven innings and combined to give up just three hits on Friday at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

A stoic Devin Comes gave up a single to the first batter, and that was all as the sophomore struck out six and walked one in leading Muskegon Catholic Central to a 4-1 victory over first-time semifinalist Ubly.

MCC (38-1-1) will play Centreville (29-1) for the title Saturday at 5 p.m. Both teams are in the Final for the first time.

Michael Kool tossed a two-hitter and struck out 10 as Centreville defeated Rudyard 2-1 in the other Semifinal.

Comes pitched sparingly as a freshman, but knew his role would increase this season. He’s 10-1 and one of a handful of quality pitchers on coach Steve Schuitema’s staff.

“We had talked,” Schuitema said. “If he threw strikes, we’d be OK. We could have played better defense. Zach Huston made some real good plays at second.

“(Comes) is so unflappable. He doesn’t get that from me. I’m a nervous wreck.”

MCC committed four errors, and even those mistakes couldn’t rattle Comes. Ubly scored its run in the fourth inning on a walk, an error and a ground out by Evan Block.

By that time, MCC had built a 4-0 lead, scoring twice in the first inning and two more runs in the third.

“That 2-0 lead relieves a lot of stress,” Comes said. “I still have to do my job.

“I’ve never been in this situation before. We have a bunch of guys who can throw. I just did my normal routine (to prepare). I just try to stay calm and throw first-pitch strikes.”

Nichols Holt’s two-run single gave the Crusaders a 2-0 lead in the first. Jacob Holt had an RBI ground out in the third inning and the fourth run scored on an error.

Zachary Winzer had three of MCC seven hits. Anthony Woodard had two hits and a walk.

Jeffrey Wright pitched well for Ubly (22-8), but didn’t receive the run support.

“Every coach dreams of playing in a championship game,” Ubly coach Jim Becker said. “We were excited, but we’re also down we weren’t able to get there. We overachieved. I expected us to be .500. All along all we wanted was to win a district.”

Click for the box score.

Centreville 2, Rudyard 1

Kool, a junior right-hander, pitched a no-hitter in the Quarterfinal on Tuesday, 3-0 victory over Climax-Scotts. He retired the first 13 batters on Friday before Owen Mills singled.

Kool struck out 10 and walked two, both in the sixth inning, when Rudyard touched him for a run.

Despite his impressive performance, Kool remained humble.

“I just play baseball,” he said. “It’s not me. It’s the team. I felt good. This is the highlight of my career.

“We’re still making history for Centreville. We’re in the state final.”

Centreville took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Kool scored on a throwing error. Nick Weber scored what turned out to be the winning run when Jalen Brown singled him home with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Rudyard (30-5) set a school record for victories in a season and was making its third MHSAA Semifinal appearance.

The Bulldogs scored in the top of the sixth inning after Kool walked the first two batters. A sacrifice bunt moved both up, and James Rosebrock singled home Cody Coffey. But Kool struck out the last two batters and retired the side in order in the seventh.

When asked if he thought about removing his ace during the tense sixth, coach Mike Webster said, “I went with my instincts and left him in.”

Webster will turn 27 on Saturday, and he said, “The kids gave me the best birthday of my life.”

Travis Myers went the distance and took the loss for Rudyard. This was coach Ron VanSloten’s last game, as he will retire after 22 seasons to spend more time with his family. He built a career record of 444-186-4. 

“We had a couple of key at bats today,” he said. “(Kool) is a good dude. Except for that one inning, he comes right at you.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Devin Comes prepares to deliver a pitch during Friday’s Division 4 Semifinal win. (Middle) A Centreville player crosses the plate for one of his team’s two runs.

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."

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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.)