New Lothrop 'Nails' Down 1st Title

June 14, 2014

By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Beal City did something it hadn’t done in a long time, relatively speaking.

New Lothrop did something for the first time, ever.

Junior Grant Steinborn struck out four and danced out of trouble on several occasions Saturday as New Lothrop won its first MHSAA baseball championship with a 5-0 win over Beal City in the Division 4 Final at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

Steinborn managed to escape trouble despite surrendering seven hits and walking two. He stranded eight Beal City runners, and three times the Aggies (36-4) left two on.

“He’s a very durable pitcher,” fourth-year New Lothrop coach Keith Villano said. “No question, his mechanics are sound. The No. 1 thing about Grant is he’s a gamer, and there’s no question in my mind that he was going to go out and throw strikes and let our defense take care of the work. We’ve got a good defensive team as well, and it just worked out.”

Beal City, which lost in the 2013 Final to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 3-2 in eight innings, committed three errors.

“We did something we haven’t done in three weeks – booted the ball all over the yard, and they capitalized on it,” Beal City coach Brad Antcliff said. “Can’t fault New Lothrop. They put the ball in play. They worked the pitch count.

“We had runners on, and we had some base-running errors. Just didn’t get the big hit when we needed it. They’d get a bleeder in; we’d hit a bunch right at them. It was like the baseball gods were not with us today.”

New Lothrop got two hits apiece from Brodie Bennett and Quentin Taylor. Bennett’s two-out single in the second inning broke a scoreless tie. 

The Hornets (34-6) extended their lead to 4-0 with a three-run fourth inning, during which they got RBI singles from Kyle Chappelle and Steven Garza and a run-scoring double from Taylor. Jake VanCleve drove in New Lothrop’s final run with a two-out single in the seventh.

“It’s our first (MHSAA title) for baseball, and it’s a great feeling,” Steinborn said. “We (used) our coach’s philosophy, which is throw strikes, put the ball in play, and play defense. Brought home a banner, and a ring. That’s a great feeling.” 

Villano said he had an inkling the 2014 season could be special after the Hornets went to the Quarterfinals in 2012 and Semifinals a year ago.

“I had a great feeling coming into this year,” he said. “It was a very difficult journey coming through the tournament. We had to go through a lot of tough teams, but these guys are tough. 

“And I told them earlier, I said ‘Chew on some nails today.’ And they went out there and they were gritty. They’re a gritty team, and they’re going to go out there and they’re going to fight. And they don’t give up. They don’t let the little things bother them. They just keep going, they pick each other up and that usually translates into wins.”

Kurt Gross allowed one run on two hits over two innings pitched in taking the loss. Antcliff removed him after Gross hit Steven Garza leading off the third inning, replacing his starter with standout Ty Rollin. Rollin had earned the Semifinal win with four innings of two-hit pitching as Beal City’s defeated Kalamazoo Christian 11-1 on Friday. 

Rollin allowed four runs on eight hits in the Final. He struck out five and walked two.

“We wanted Kurt to give us as much as he could, and he threw very well and I just went with my gut and said ‘Let’s get Ty in and see what happens,’” Antcliff said. “It was a tough call, and I had to make it.

“Baseball’s a funny game. We played well; we didn’t play great. And you have to come down here and play great. You can’t walk people. You can’t hit people. When you get the opportunity to score, you have to score. New Lothrop did that, and we didn’t.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) New Lothrop players celebrate their first MHSAA baseball championship. (Middle) Hornets junior Grant Steinborn threw a shutout and struck out four Saturday.

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.)