Pitchers Provide Offensive Sparks Too as Algonac, Bridgman Advance

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

June 15, 2023

EAST LANSING – For Algonac junior pitcher Josh Kasner, his bat proved to be the perfect medicine for what was ailing him on the mound during a Division 3 Semifinal against Lansing Catholic on Thursday.

Kasner labored through the first three innings of his start, but then new adrenaline on the mound came after what he did at the plate in the bottom of the third inning at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.

With two outs, two strikes and two men on base, Kasner launched a 3-run home run just to the right of the foul pole.

Kasner settled down on the mound after that, with the home run and his pitching being the difference for Algonac in a 4-1 win over the Cougars that earned the Muskrats their first appearance in a Final at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

“It was a fastball inside,” Kasner said. “To be honest, I was sitting on fastball and adjusting to off-speed. It was my pitch, and I got it inside the foul pole. I knew that once I got that home run, we were up 3-1, I settled in and I was going to be fine.”

Indeed, as Kasner didn’t allow Lansing Catholic much of a threat after he threw 55 pitches, walked three and hit two batters through the first three innings. 

Kasner makes his move toward the plate. Over the last four innings, Kasner didn’t walk anybody and allowed only one Lansing Catholic batter to reach second base. 

“I think he was stressed a little bit,” Algonac head coach Scott Thaler said. “You get to this point, I think the zone is where it should be as opposed to sometimes where it is during the season. He got the idea of what a college zone is like, which should help him out in a couple of years.”

After Kasner’s blast, Algonac added another in the fifth inning when junior Matt Rix reached on a bunt single, stole second, took third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a passed ball to give the Muskrats a 4-1 lead.

Lansing Catholic scored first in the top of the third inning, grabbing a 1-0 lead on an RBI single to right with two outs by senior Drew Burlingame. The Cougars later loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but Kasner got out of the jam with a strikeout. 

Sophomore Drew Tolfre allowed just four hits in a complete-game effort for Lansing Catholic (23-6.) 

“He had two strikes on (Kasner), but he kind of missed his spot a little bit,” Lansing Catholic head coach Randy Farlin said. “But you can’t fault him. He pitched a helluva game. We just didn’t have the bats. One run is not going to do it for us. We just didn’t put it all together today.” 

Click for the box score.

Bridgman 3, Standish-Sterling 2

Bridgman didn’t get a hit until the seventh inning of its Semifinal against Standish-Sterling.

But all Bees (32-9) needed were two hits during that set of at-bats to move on to their first Final since 2011. 

With the score tied 2-2 and a runner on second base, freshman Cooper Allwood delivered the game-winning single to left with one out, scoring junior Alec MacMartin to give Bridgman the victory. 

MacMartin started the inning with the first hit of the day off of Standish-Sterling sophomore starter Sam Briggs, and then was sacrificed over to second. 

“We were just having fun and getting comfortable in the situation,” Allwood said. “Just never giving up. We’ve been in games like this before. Nothing new.”

Bridgman’s Alec MacMartin delivers a pitch during the day’s last Semifinal.After neither team collected a hit through the first three innings, Standish-Sterling got something going in the top of the fourth.

Junior Cooper Prout led off with a double, and then sophomore pinch runner Brecken Stokoszynski scored on an RBI single by senior Brayden Schabel. 

In the bottom of the fourth, Bridgman put runners on second and third with two outs after an error and a hit batter, but a flyout ended the threat. 

In the fifth, Standish-Sterling took a 2-0 lead when a fly ball by Briggs just eluded the Bridgman left fielder down the line, scoring sophomore Brock Bartlett. 

The Bees answered in the bottom half of the fifth, tying the game at 2-2 without registering a hit thanks in large part to three infield errors by Standish-Sterling. 

An RBI groundout by Allwood made it 2-1, and then Bridgman tied the game at 2-2 following another error with a runner on third and two outs. 

The score remained that way until Allwood’s single in the seventh.

“We were just missing that timely hit,” Bridgman head coach Justin Hahaj said. “We finally got it.”

MacMartin got the win on the mound for Bridgman, allowing four hits, walking one and striking out six in a complete-game effort. 

Briggs lost for the first time this year, striking out eight for Standish-Sterling (29-15), which fell in the Semifinals for the second-straight season.

Standish-Sterling head coach Ryan Raymond said it was more than just four errors that cost his team. 

“We didn’t hit in the right spots either,” Raymond said. “We had some opportunities to get some hits and knock some more runs. It’s a team effort.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac’s Josh Kasner rounds third base during his home run in Thursday’s Semifinal win over Lansing Catholic. (Middle) Kasner makes his move toward the plate. (Below) Bridgman’s Alec MacMartin delivers a pitch during the day’s last Semifinal. (Photos by John Castine/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) 

Vast Experience Shapes Retired MLB-er Gates Into 3-Time Finals-Winning Coach

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)