EAST LANSING – It’s not the way the winning team would like to finish a game.
But all the same, Madison Heights Bishop Foley did win, and the Ventures will play for a second consecutive Division 3 title.
Bishop Foley led its Semifinal against Gladstone 6-0, then 7-1 after six innings Friday when the game got tight. The Ventures hit three batters in the seventh, and the Braves brought the tying run to the plate.
But sophomore Braden Mussat got the final out on strikes, and Bishop Foley held on for a 7-5 victory to advance again at McLane Stadium on Michigan State’s campus.
Bishop Foley (19-17-1) will play Detroit Catholic League rival Riverview Gabriel Richard for the title at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Bishop Foley and Richard do not play in the same division of the league, and the teams met once this season, in a league crossover, that Richard won 8-2.
For Bishop Foley, the sixth inning Friday was nearly as tenuous as the seventh, as Gladstone loaded the bases with one out. Starter Ethan Hoffman struck out the next two batters to maintain a six-run cushion.
First-year Bishop Foley coach Tim McEvoy went to the mound in the sixth to reassure Hoffman that everything was all right.
“I told him that this was his game,” McEvoy said. “It was a bit of a jam. He’s been there before.”
Hoffman was wild, yet effective. He walked six but allowed just two hits. His wildness might have contributed to his effectiveness. He said his fastball is consistently in the high 80s, but he had more to offer on this day.
“My curveball was working really well,” he said. “I was trying to keep them off balance. I was wild, but I kept them off balance with my off-speed stuff. They hadn’t really squared up on me all day.”
Bishop Foley scored in each of the first four innings. A three-run third featured a two-run double by Kenneth Germain.
Gladstone (32-5) got on the board in the fifth on a walk, an error and a ground out.
An RBI single by Ben Alderson in the bottom of the sixth inning pushed Bishop Foley’s lead back to six runs, when the game nearly turned upside down.
In the seventh, Carson Shea had a one-out single and Cody Frappier was hit by a pitch. Both moved up on a wild pitch before Mussat retired the next Braves batter. Consecutive hit batsmen forced in a run, and a wild pitch brought in Gladstone’s third. Ben Kelly’s two-run single made it 7-5, and Mussat ended the drama with a strikeout.
“I trust Braden,” McEvoy said. “Even if it got to 7-6, I would trust him.”
Gladstone left nine runners on base, five during the last two innings. The Braves put the first two runners on in the third, but a double play ended that threat.
“We had our opportunities,” Gladstone coach Don Lauscher said. “We had bases loaded a couple of times. They certainly gave us some opportunities. We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it. Their pitcher (Hoffman) was throwing heat and was a little erratic.”
Germain and catcher Mason Minzey each had two RBI for Bishop Foley. Minzey had a double, and his sacrifice fly was hit to the warning track in left center.
Clay Cole took the loss for Gladstone.
Riverview Gabriel Richard 5, Schoolcraft 2
Trailing 2-0, Gabriel Richard (28-3) scored five runs on three hits in the sixth inning to advance.
The Eagles (22-12) took that 2-0 lead in the fifth inning on one hit, four walks and an error. Sophomore Cole Atkinson came on in relief of starter Frank Klamerus with the bases loaded and one out, and walked in the second run. He then got the last out on a ground ball to third.
“It was a close call on the walk, but I knew I had to throw strikes,” said Atkinson, who was called up from the junior varsity in late May. “I knew I had a good defense behind me. And I knew our offense would get going.
“I had to be a bulldog (when I came in). I just had to shut them down.”
Richard had four hits over the first five innings, but no base runner reached third base.
Kevin Tuttle started the Pioneers’ rally with a one-out single. The next two batters reached on errors before Klamerus unloaded with a two-run double that one-hopped off the left-field fence. After a walk, pinch hitter Hayden Flynn hit a two-run single.
“We always have confidence in ourselves,” Richard coach Mike Magier said. I knew we could come back. (Atkinson) came in and did his job.”
After that one walk, Atkinson retired the last seven batters he faced.
“Yeah, we played Bishop Foley before,” Klamerus said. “But this is much bigger than the Catholic League.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Evan Ludwick slides into home to score for Bishop Foley on Friday. (Middle) Gabriel Richard’s Frank Klamerus (23) and Schoolcraft catcher Stephen Schultz watch a Klamerus drive.
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.)