Liggett Scores 2nd Title in 3 Seasons

June 14, 2014

By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Hits? Who needs hits?

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett had just three hits Saturday. But it used just about every other conceivable way to reach base, move runners along, and get them home in downing Decatur, 9-0, in the MHSAA Division 3 Final at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

It was the second straight title for the Knights (25-8), who won Division 4 crowns in 2011 and 2013. They were runners-up in Division 4 in 2012.

“So proud of the guys, so proud of the program,” said Dan Cimini, who is in his 11th year as Liggett’s coach. “We just keep staying confident and expecting to win every time we step on the baseball field. Doesn’t matter what division we’re in, that’s basically been our motto here.”

Freshman Gehrig Anglin tossed a two-hitter for the complete-game victory. He struck out four and walked three. He stranded two base runners in the first inning and left them loaded with Raiders in the second, then settled in and set down 16 of the last 18 batters he faced.

Joby Kawaski singled in the first inning and Dale Mann singled in the fourth for Decatur’s only hits.

“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Cimini said of Anglin. “He didn’t have his good curve ball, and he struggled with his control early. Our defense got us out of it, and then he settled down.”

A second-inning visit to the mound did the trick, Cimini said.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m not going to sugar-coat it; if you don’t get this kid out, I’m taking you out,’” Cimini said. “As soon as I said that he focused like nobody’s business. He’s a 14-year-old, but he plays like a junior or senior. He’s been our ace all year. He did not have his best stuff all day. He struggled with his curveball, and his fastball was kind of all over the place.

“He may not say it, but I think he was a little nervous at the beginning.”

Decatur’s last legitimate chance came when it left the bases loaded in the second inning. After that, it was all Liggett, but the Raiders’ lackluster defense played a major role.

Liggett used a hit batsman, a single, an error and a sacrifice fly to seize a 2-0 lead in the third, then blew the game open with a seven-run fifth during which the Knights got just two hits – RBI singles by Adam Fiema and Anthony Simon.

Liggett’s turn at bat in the fifth inning included three walks, three errors, a hit batsman and a suicide squeeze.

Kawaski, Decatur's starter, did not survive the fifth and took the loss. He was charged with nine runs, just two of which were earned. He walked five and struck out six. Matthew Saylor finished up for the Raiders (24-7).

“He didn’t pitch terrible in my opinion,” Decatur coach Ben Botti said. “You know, we make a couple plays – did they get an earned run today? I don’t think they did. I mean, we crushed the ball today and got nothing to show for it. Then we turn around and kick (the ball) around.

“The shortstop boots two, we drop one in center – that kid hasn’t dropped one all year; we drop one at first base. We had another error in there somewhere. When you’ve got to pitch over all that kind of stuff, it’s tough to do.

“We’ve been making those plays in the tournament. And today we didn’t make any of them.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) University Liggett scored two runs in the third inning and seven in the fifth to build a comfortable lead in the Division 3 Final. (Middle) The Knights celebrated their second title in three seasons. 

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."

2023 Made In Michigan

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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.)