EAST LANSING – Coach Bryan Scheurer figured his Portland St. Patrick team couldn’t play much worse.
The Shamrocks committed four errors over the first four innings of their Division 4 Semifinal and trailed Unionville-Sebewaing 8-4.
“Our motto is to throw strikes early,” he said. “We want to throw strikes and take the outs they give us.”
That wasn’t working. In addition to the errors, St. Patrick issued three walks.
“We weren’t playing well,” Scheurer said. “Another one of our mottos is, losing is not acceptable. We’re going to chip away, grind away.
“We didn’t make it easy.”
The Shamrocks scored four runs in the fifth inning to tie the game and pushed across four more in the seventh to defeat USA, 12-8, on Friday at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.
St. Patrick (28-0-1), a 10-3 loser to Sterling Heights Parkway Christian in the Final last season, will attempt to win the program’s first title when it plays Hudson (27-16) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Hudson, which had never won a Regional title until this season, trailed Gaylord St. Mary, 2-1, after four innings and then scored two in the fifth and added three in the sixth to take a 6-2 lead on the way to achieving another program first.
St. Patrick had two triples in the fifth inning of its win. Freshman Devin Fedewa’s two-run triple was the key hit.
Graham Smith then started the seventh with a walk, and the bases were loaded with one out after an error and a hit batsman. Dan Mackowiak batted in what proved to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly to center. Nathan Lehnert and Scheurer’s nephew, Brandon Scheurer, had RBI singles, and another run scored on a well-executed double steal.
St. Patrick trailed Bay City All Saints 3-0 and 6-4 in a Regional Final before coming back to win, 7-6. Brandon Scheuer said his team has come back a number of times this season, so the fact the Shamrocks were trailing again didn’t faze them.
“We’ve seen games like that before,” he said. “We try not to hit doubles and home runs. We want to hit singles. We play small ball. We’re good at it. Apparently, they are, too.”
USA (30-8-1) batted around in the third inning and scored four runs to take a 7-3 lead. Scheurer came on in relief in that inning, and though he gave up three of the four runs, he settled down and allowed just two hits and no runs over the final three innings to receive credit for the victory.
Scheurer had four hits, and four of his teammates had two including Brendan Schrauben, Lehnert and Fedewa, all of whom had two RBI.
St. Patrick had 15 hits to nine for USA. Cooper Kauffold had three hits and three RBI for the Patriots.
“That was a heck of a game when you think about all of the back-and-forth play,” USA coach Tyler Bader said. “I told our players you’ve got to use this as a springboard. Not having experience here can add up.”
USA was playing to reach an MHSAA Final for the first time.
Hudson 6, Gaylord St. Mary 4
Jesse Hesistan went the first six innings for Hudson before filling the bases with no outs in the seventh. Coach Jeremy Beal brought in Garrett Gamble from third base and switched Hesistan to third.
The move worked. Drew Koenig hit a grounder to Hesistan, who stepped on the bag and threw to first to complete the double play. Though a run scored, Hudson got what it wanted.
“I was nervous,” Gamble said. “Pitching in relief is never easy. You just have to get it done. You prep for this.”
Brady Hunter singled in St. Mary’s fourth run, but Gamble got the last out on a fly out to center.
“(Hesistan) had enough pitches left to finish,” Beal said. “He was staring at getting us to the Final. That double play was just like we drew it up.”
Hudson’s three runs in the sixth inning proved valuable. Black Borck singled home the fourth run and Gamble, who went 4-4 with four RBI, followed with a two-out, two-run triple.
“We needed to score some runs,” St. Mary coach Matt Nowicki said. “When you get in a hole like that, it’s tough. It would have been nice to take that next step.”
Nick Torsky went the distance for St. Mary (29-8), and Joseph Moeggenberg went 3-3 at the plate.
“We don’t have experience in games like these,” Beal said. “But our athletic department has had success. Wrestling for one. We coach kids in the fall, and it carries over to the winter. We coach kids in the winter and it carries over to the spring.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Portland St. Patrick second baseman Dan Mackowiak throws to first during Friday’s Division 4 Semifinal. (Middle) Hudson puts a tag on Gaylord St. Mary’s Nick Torsky.
If there is anything that Brent Gates knows for sure, it's that there is no single explanation for three MHSAA Finals baseball championships.
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.
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.
"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.)