Petersburg Summerfield junior – Baseball
The Bulldogs closed one of the most dominating runs in MHSAA Baseball Tournament history with their first championship Saturday, and Clark turned in a performance to match. The pitcher/centerfielder threw a four-hit shutout in the 9-0 Division 4 Final win over Saginaw Nouvel, capping a run of 44 straight scoreless innings pitched to close his junior season as he earned the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.”
Clark’s pitching statistics this spring were jaw-dropping. He finished 13-0 with a 0.20 ERA – good for seventh lowest in MHSAA history. He had 116 strikeouts in 70 innings pitched, with 11 strikeouts in the championship game including for the season’s final out. He was 4-for-7 from the plate over the Semifinal and championship games to push his average to .500 for this spring, and he also finished with 48 runs scored and 52 stolen bases (tied for 19th most) on 54 attempts over 32 games. Summerfield defeated Gaylord St. Mary 5-0 in the Semifinal on the way to meeting Nouvel on Saturday, and finished with a combined scoring margin of 89-2 over eight postseason games. The championship was the school’s first at the Finals level in any boys sport. The Bulldogs also won the Tri-County Conference and finished 28-4 overall, capping a complete program turnaround – more on that below.
A three-sport athlete as a junior, Clark doesn’t plan to play football as a senior but will return as the point guard for a basketball team that won the league this past winter for the first time since 2011-12. He’s also a 3.6 student, part of National Honor Society and student council, and is leaning toward studying business or sports marketing when high school is done. He should have some interesting options to continue on the diamond as well – the left-hander made the Division 4 all-state first team this spring as a pitcher after earning the same as an outfielder in 2018.
Coach Travis Pant said: “He’s an ultra competitor. He hates to lose, and it shows in the way he plays the game. Derek’s energy and leadership fueled this historic weekend that we had as a program. He’s a humble leader who brings an enthusiasm to the field every single day that is unmatched. What people saw this weekend in the Finals is what I have watched for the past three seasons. He plays the game the right way and is very fun to watch. … He has been the face of the rebuild we had at Summerfield. When he was an eighth grader, we went 6-28. In his freshman year he quickly became the ace and a leader in the dugout. We have won at least 21 games in every year since. Derek has pitched us to two District championships, two Regional championships and a state championship. He wants the ball in big games and the team fuels off his confidence. … Derek’s junior season was nothing short of amazing. He broke the county record for ERA with a 0.20 and was within three of the county stolen base record with 52. To do what he does on the mound and at the plate for us at such a consistent rate is amazing. Derek never had a bad day on the mound. No matter what the situation, he showed up with his best stuff.”
Performance Point: “The community's been really great about it. I can't go anywhere without having somebody say congratulations. I've had people I've never seen in my life say ‘Congrats,’” Clark said. “It's really nice to have that back-up, so to say, with our community. … With the weekend, it was just so good. All of our hard work, it finally paid off, finally got (us) to our number one goal. It's really nice to accomplish something this big. … The last out, to strike him out for the game, I was telling my catcher, ‘If we get to two outs, we've got to strike him out.’ I think that was probably the best moment. I just felt like it was more ecstatic, had us all pumped up. Because we had the confidence, I don't think it was shocking, so to say. We were really confident in ourselves and in our play because we were playing really well at the time. I think it was just more of a relief.”
Talking turnaround: “I think it’s just having guys that can play. The junior class this year was really big. We started five freshmen my freshman year. So just having that, and having guys come out. Also just having confidence in each other and trusting in each other, because team chemistry is huge. If you don’t have that, talent doesn’t really mean anything. … We’ve always been a baseball group. There’s been football and basketball, but we’ve been more of a baseball grade. I think we’ve been all right coming up, and we’ve just hit a stride the last couple of years and (we’re) just getting better.”
Taking the lead: “I just try to be a leader of everything, every sport I play. When it comes to basketball, I'm the point guard so you've gotta communicate, you've gotta use your words, you can't be quiet. You're the general of the floor – you've got to know what to do, what's going on at all times. That's kinda how I am with baseball. I just try to keep everybody engaged and try to get everybody looks and help everybody as much as I can.”
Title time: “It's just great to finally get it done. Our baseball program, Coach (Darrell) Polter built it up (before retiring in 2014 after nearly 40 seasons). He has 17 league titles at Summerfield, and just to finally get that state title meant a lot to us. Nobody's really ever been there to do that, in any sport, so (the community) made a really big deal. We came home after we won, and there was a big parade in town and it was just really surreal and awesome to be a part of.”
Never stop competing: “I think we're all just so competitive. We'll be in math class, doing something that's competitive, and if you lose it's hectic. Nobody wants to lose. I think that's got something to do with (our success). When we grew up, we didn't want to lose ever. That's how we've been since we were little. Some kids take it even into school, like ‘Ha ha, I have better grades than you.’ It gets wild. I’m not bad (academically), but our shortstop Brendan Dafoe has a 4-point, and Brayden Jewell has a 3.8 or 3.9 or something like that. We’re all in advanced class, so we get after each other in there.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Past 2018-19 honorees
June 13: Audrey Whiteside, East Grand Rapids lacrosse - Read
June 6: Kari Miller, Ann Arbor Pioneer tennis - Read
May 23: Keshaun Harris, Lansing Waverly track & field - Read
May 16: Gabbie Sherman, Millington softball - Read
May 9: Nathan Taylor, Muskegon Mona Shores golf - Read
May 2: Ally Gaunt, New Baltimore Anchor Bay soccer - Read
April 25: Kali Heivilin, Three Rivers softball - Read
March 28: Rickea Jackson, Detroit Edison basketball - Read
March 21: Noah Wiswary, Hudsonville Unity Christian basketball - Read
March 14: Cam Peel, Spring Lake swimming - Read
March 7: Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21: Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read
February 14: Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31: Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24: Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29: Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15: Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8: Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1: Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25: Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18: Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4: Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Petersburg Summerfield's Derek Clark unloads a pitch during Saturday's Division 4 championship game win at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Clark heads back to his dugout after sliding in head-first to score in Friday's Semifinal.
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."
2023 Made In Michigan
July 25: After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor - Read
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)