EAST LANSING – Zach Warren knew he didn’t have many pitches left.
Fortunately for the Stevensville Lakeshore sophomore, he had just enough to finish off a dominating pitching performance.
Warren tossed a no-hitter in Friday’s second Division 2 Semifinal as the Lancers blanked Gladwin 8-0 at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.
“When my coach came out before my last batter I think I had five pitches left, so I had to finish the batter,” Warren said. “I was just trying to get him out. I just wanted to end the game, finish my game.”
The Lancers (27-11) advanced to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Final, where it will face reigning champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Lakeshore won back-to-back Division 2 championships in 2017 and 2018.
The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Warren struck out five and walked three in seven scoreless innings Friday. It was the first no-hitter of his career.
“This feels really good because it advances my team to the championship game, and hopefully we will come out with a win,” Warren said. “I just wanted to get the job done and help my team get the win.”
Lancers’ coach Mark Nate said Warren was approaching his pitch count of 105 after an error and walk put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Warren got a ground out to shortstop Jack Carlisle to cap the no-hitter.
“That was his last pitch right there; that was his last batter,” Nate said. “If he would’ve gotten on there, I would’ve had to pull him.
“He had his breaking ball going early, he attacked the strike zone early and I’m just proud of him. His work ethic all year and his endurance really helped. He’s quite a ball player, and it's special to have a sophomore as your ace."
Warren, who improved to 9-1 this season, silenced the Gladwin offense with a combination of pitches.
“I think every pitch was working until the fifth inning, and I started to gas a little bit and then I got a little wild,” Warren said. “But I battled and got through it. I was mixing everything up and keeping them off balance so they didn’t know what was coming.”
The Lancers’ bats staked Warren to an early lead. They scored six runs on eight hits over the first three innings to grab the early advantage.
Lakeshore also took advantage of five Gladwin errors.
“I think it really relaxed everybody in the dugout with the early runs,” Nate said. “In games like this you have to break the ice and get that run in, and we did that in the second inning. Once we got those runs, it got a lot looser in the dugout and I think Zach calmed down on the mound knowing that we had a lead.”
Leadoff hitter Trevor Griffiths went 4-for-4 with two runs scored, while Michael Nate had two hits and three RBIs. The Lancers finished with 12 hits.
Gladwin, which was making its first trip to the Semifinals, finished the season with a 25-10-1 record. The Flying G’s had won their first Regional since 2014.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 5, New Boston Huron 1
Junior Brock Porter, a Clemson commit, struck out 12 and scattered six hits as top-ranked St. Mary’s defeated New Boston Huron 5-1 in Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal.
“He gives us a chance to win every time he takes it, and he had the experience from his freshman year,” Eaglets coach Mike Petry said. “It was a different role for him this year as the No. 1, and you have to win that first game to get to (Saturday).
“He took the ball and did exactly what we needed him to. He saved the bullpen, and now we have everybody but him tomorrow.”
Porter didn’t allow a run during his first six innings of work and remained unbeaten on the season at 12-0. His lone run allowed came with two outs in the seventh inning.
“My change-up was big for me, and I could throw it anytime, anywhere,” Porter said. “I was confident in that pitch, as well as my fastball. My slider was a swing-and-miss pitch for me.
“I have the best defense behind me and I have the best bats ahead of me, so I go out there and have fun and enjoy every single minute of it.”
The fourth-ranked Chiefs had base runners in five of the seven innings, but couldn’t manufacture any quality scoring chances against Porter.
“He’s a tough guy to string multiple hits together against if he’s not walking guys, which he doesn't do, and we are making the plays behind him,” Petry said. “You're forcing the other team to string multiple hits together and get some extra-base hits, which he doesn't give up a whole lot of.”
Huron coach Phillip Yancey knew what to expect from the crafty and hard-throwing Porter.
“We knew he was coming, and we geared up for about 100 mph this week,” Yancey said. “I don't believe in pitching machines, but we cranked it up to about 100 and we took batting practice. I think the boys put the ball in play.”
Jasen Oliver gave the Eaglets an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI double.
St. Mary’s (42-1) added another run in the third inning when a safety squeeze bunt by Jack Crighton scored Alex Mooney from third base.
The Eaglets broke it open in the sixth inning with three insurance runs. Oliver delivered again with a two-run single as the lead swelled to 4-0. Jake Dresselhouse tacked on an RBI single to make it 5-0.
“The way Huron battled at the end, it was big to get those three runs in the bottom of the sixth,” Petry said. “That’s something we’ve preached in this playoff run. Finding a way to add at least one every inning because things can go awry pretty quickly in a playoff game, so you have to find a way to add, add, add.”
The Chiefs finally got to Porter in the seventh when Gavin Moczydlowski’s third hit of the game, down the right field line, scored Shane Mitchell.
New Boston senior starter Chase Molnar suffered his first loss of the season, but pitched well against a potent line-up before being roughed up in the sixth. He allowed five runs on eight hits and struck out three, but had given up only four hits through the first five innings while keeping it a two-run game to that point.
The Chiefs (26-8) were making their first appearance in the Semifinals.
“The boys were up to the challenge, and this was big for our community.” Yancey said. “We had a great run."
Oliver finished with two hits and three RBI for the Eaglets, while Ryan McKay had two hits and two runs scored.
PHOTOS: (Top) Stevensville Lakeshore’s Zach Warren makes his move toward the plate during his no-hitter Friday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Ryan McKay (3) slides in to score for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
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.)