Plymouth Christian Academy, Beal City Match Shutouts To Advance in D4

By Tim Robinson
Special for

June 16, 2023

EAST LANSING — For Beal City and Plymouth Christian Academy, a fast start proved key to victory in Friday’s Division 4 Semifinals at McLane Stadium.

Plymouth Christian (34-7) earned its first Finals berth with an 8-0 win over Rudyard, while Beal City (30-8) reached the championship game for the second year in a row with an 8-0 win over Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep, 8-0.

The Eagles and Aggies will play for the Division 4 title at 5 p.m. Saturday.

In both games, the winning team scored the only run it would need in the first inning. 

For Plymouth Christian, it came on a triple by starting pitcher Jordan Scott.

“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Scott said. ”You never know going into a game if you’re going to get a hit or not, and to get that first hit lifted that weight.”

Scott let his arm do the rest, scattering seven hits while striking out five with no walks. 

A Beal City hitter steps back to avoid an inside pitch.The Eagles also took advantage of four Rudyard errors and a passed ball that led to a run. 

“Errors kind of feed on each other sometimes,” Plymouth Christian coach Joe Bottorff said. “All of our batters are good base runners, even though it didn’t look like it at times. We have aggressive baserunners, and we can get around the bases. We’ve got good speed.”

The Eagles had a balanced attack, too, scattering 10 hits among seven players, led by Micah Lavigne, who had a double while going 3-for-4. 

After Scott gave PCA a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the Eagles scored twice in the second and put the game out of reach with four runs in the fourth. 

Asked for a key to the Eagles’ success, Bottorff said “eight seniors,” before stopping to gather his emotions.

Aiden Bickel, who was the starting pitcher for Rudyard, had two hits for the Bulldogs. 

Rudyard (19-20) went into the game on a five-game winning streak, all of those victories coming during the postseason, and fell short in its bid to become the first team from the Upper Peninsula to play for a state title since Escanaba reached the 2006 Division 2 Final.

Click for the box score.

Beal City 8, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep 0

For Beal City, the expectations – and results – have been very different. 

“Our goal every year is to play the last game of the season, in East Lansing, and we did that,” Aggies coach Brad Antcliff said. 

In fact, the Aggies are back in the Final for the second year in a row after falling to Riverview Gabriel Richard 4-3 in last season’s championship game. 

The Aggies’ Josh Wilson delivers a pitch during his shutout. Antcliff, who is in the first year of his second stint as Aggies coach, led the team to titles in 2009 and 2010 and got them back to the Final in 2013 and 2014.

Playing the first Division 4 Semifinal, Beal City (30-8) got off to an early start. With one out, Owen McKenny singled then scored on a double by Jack Fussman to give starting pitcher Josh Wilson the only run he would need.

The Aggies added two runs in the fourth inning on a single by Cayden Smith and a two-base error and put it out of reach when Smith doubled to drive in three runs in the sixth. Beal City added two more runs in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Hackett was handcuffed at the plate.

“All I needed to do was throw strikes,” said Wilson, who threw just 87 pitches in holding the Irish (24-15-1) to three hits while walking one and striking out five. “My teammates made great plays behind me. I just trusted my stuff, and my coaches trusted me.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Plymouth Christian Academy’s Micah Lavigne lays out in pursuit of a drive to center field Thursday. (Middle) A Beal City hitter steps back to avoid an inside pitch. (Below) The Aggies’ Josh Wilson delivers a pitch during his shutout. (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

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.)