Preview: Contenders Predicted & Unexpected to Converge at Baseball Finals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 13, 2023

This weekend’s MHSAA Baseball Semifinals & Finals at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium will present the usual mix of highly-ranked contenders and a surprise or two in three of the four playoff divisions.

And then there’s the phenomenon that’s played out in Division 1 over the last two weeks.

All four remaining challengers among the state’s largest baseball schools entered the postseason unranked. They then navigated a path that saw every top-20 team eliminated on the way to the final three games of the season.  

Three more unranked teams – two in Division 4 and a third in Division 3 – also will play this weekend, while top-ranked contenders Grand Rapids Christian in Division 2 and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in Division 3 anchor those brackets and a pair of top-four teams fill half the remaining Division 4 field.

Division 1 – Thursday
Brownstown Woodhaven vs. Macomb Dakota, 9 a.m.
Novi vs. Mattawan, 11:30 a.m.

Division 2 – Friday
Grand Rapids Christian vs. Flint Powers Catholic, 9 a.m.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett vs. Ada Forest Hills Eastern, 11:30 a.m.

Division 3 – Thursday
Algonac vs. Lansing Catholic, 2:30 p.m.
Bridgman vs. Standish-Sterling, 5 p.m.

Division 4 – Friday
Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep vs. Beal City, 2:30 p.m.
Rudyard vs. Plymouth Christian Academy, 5 p.m.

FINALS – Saturday
Division 1 – 9 a.m.
Division 2 – 2:30 p.m.
Division 3 – 11:30 a.m.
Division 4 – 5 p.m.

Tickets cost $11 and may be purchased online only at GoFan. One ticket is good for all baseball, softball and girls soccer games at MSU’s Old College Field that day. All Semifinals and Finals will be broadcast and available with subscription from, with free audio broadcasts on the MHSAA Network.

Below is a glance at all 16 teams taking the field:

Division 1

Record/rank: 31-11, unranked
Coach: Corey Farner, eighth season
League finish: Second in Downriver League
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2018.
Players to watch: Jacob Wright, jr. OF/P (.375, 30 R, 10 2B, 25 RBI, 13 SB, 1.76 ERA); Gary Pilgrim, jr. OF/C (.328, 40 R, 26 SB); Jace Davis, soph. IF (.322, 16 SB); Evan Langlois, sr. P/IF (.301, 26 RBI, 7-2 pitching, 0.96 ERA, 96 K/65 1/3 IP).
Outlook: Woodhaven has won 20 of its last 22 games and reached 30 victories total for the fourth time in five seasons. The latest streak has included a playoff win over No. 15 Allen Park and regular-season victory over Division 2 No. 17 Trenton – the former avenging a regular-season sweep and the latter completing one. Senior Tyler Harris (7-2, 1.45 ERA) and junior Jimmy Chwalek (3-0, 1.65) also have done good work on the mound, and senior Nick Phillips (.323) brings another potent bat slotting third in the lineup.

Record/rank: 26-12-2, unranked
Coach: Angelo Plouffe, first season
League finish: Second in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Charlie Chmielewski, sr. IF (.386, 27 RBI); Alex Kavalick, sr. C (.414, 12 2B, 37 RBI); Brendan Borowicz, sr. OF (.446, 24 SB); Will DeMasse, sr. IF/P (.397, 30 RBI, 5-2 pitching).
Outlook: Dakota nearly reached its first Final during its most recent Semifinals trip in 2019, losing in extra innings, and a senior-dominated lineup has the Cougars back riding a run that’s included wins over No. 11 Sterling Heights Stevenson, a spoiler in Lake Orion and 2021 champion Grand Blanc. The anticipated hitting lineup this weekend includes seven seniors. Junior Landon Moore adds a .375 average, team-high 33 runs and 17 stolen bases, and sophomore pitcher Brendan Przybycki is 6-0 with a 1.64 ERA this spring.

Record/rank: 25-11-1, unranked
Coach: Brett Vaughn, second season (50-24-1)
League finish: Seventh in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Brendan Garza, jr. P/IF (.321, 26 R, 29 RBI, 18 SB, 8-2 pitching, 1.52 ERA, 91 K/60 IP); Connor Walsh, jr. SS (.379, 34 R, 17 SB); Connor Cole, sr. OF (.343, 32 R, 18 SB); Josh DeJong, jr. P (7-0 pitching, 1.10 ERA).
Outlook: Mattawan might seem like a surprise heading to East Lansing, but the Wildcats played a loaded regular-season schedule and have outscored six playoff opponents by a combined 58-7. That started with a 23-3 District win over No. 17 Portage Northern, which avenged a regular-season sweep, and included a Regional win over No. 6 Zeeland East. Mattawan also has victories over No. 11 Sterling Heights Stevenson and Division 2 No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian, No. 2 Stevensville Lakeshore and No. 8 Forest Hills Eastern. Senior Aiden Warn (.340, 30 R, 31 RBI) is another top hitter in the middle of the lineup.

Record/rank: 30-8, unranked
Coach: Rick Green, 23rd season (513-304)
League finish: Fifth in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1973.
Players to watch: Jonathan Aurilia, soph. OF/P (.446, 18 SB); Brendon Bennett, jr. P/1B (.406, 30 RBI, 6-2 pitching), Andrew Abler, sr. P/1B (.333, 7-3 pitching, 1.02 ERA); Thad Lawler, jr. OF/P (7-0 pitching, 0.74 ERA)
Outlook: Novi won its first Regional title since Green’s first season in 2000 and will play in its first Semifinal since 1973 – and despite having only three seniors toppled No. 3 Northville, No. 16 Hartland and No. 7 Battle Creek Lakeview over its last three games. The Wildcats had split with Hartland and were swept by Northville during the regular season. Sophomore Jaden Vondrasek (.327, 13 SB) and junior Boden Fernsler (.323, 16 SB) also are capable of causing some discomfort on the base paths, and senior Alex Czapski (5-1, 1.72 ERA) is another top contributor from a deep pitching staff.

Division 2

Record/rank: 32-8, No. 8
Coach: Ian Hearn, eighth season (203-75)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2022.
Players to watch: Max Ferrick, soph. OF/P (.395, 35 R, 11 2B, 37 RBI, 12 SB); Brendan Thompson, soph. IF (.362, 38 R, 31 RBI, 19 SB); Matt Stotts, jr. C/IF (.380, 37 RBI); Jacob Pallo, sr. P/IF (.339, 11 SB, 10-0 pitching, 0.49 ERA, 70 K/57 IP).
Outlook: Five starters return from last season’s championship game lineup – Thompson, Ferrick, Pallo, Stotts and senior outfielder Collin Fridsma (.300, 42 R, 25 SB). Senior Evan Tower (.365) provides another big bat, with senior Walker Brockie (8-0, 0.95 ERA) and sophomore Landen Lindley (6-2, 2.17 ERA) able to step in strongly on the mound as well. This playoff run has included a pair of 2-0 Regional shutouts of No. 5 Bay City John Glenn and No. 16 Allendale. Hearn total has won 635 games over 25 seasons and also led Rockford to the Division 1 title in 2011.

Record/rank: 33-8-2, No. 4
Coach: Tom Dutkowski, 41st season (836-530-10)
League finish: Third in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Class B champion 1980 and 1974.
Players to watch: Grant Garman, jr. P/1B (.450, 23 RBI, 12-1 pitching, 0.43 ERA, 116 K/65 2/3 IP); Isaac Sturgess, jr. OF/P (.402, 52 R, 11 2B, 44 RBI, 13 SB, 5-2 pitching, 1.12 ERA); Connor Kelly, jr. SS/P (.396, 34 R, 40 RBI, 5-2 pitching, 1.00 ERA); Gavin Darling, jr. 3B (.357, 12 2B, 25 RBI, 10 SB).
Outlook: Garman and Sturgess both made the all-state first team last season and headline a contender that starts only two seniors as it makes its first Semifinal trip since 1984. The Chargers put up an impressive 43 runs over their first five postseason games, with senior Jack Dawley (.398, 32 R, 26 RBI, 14 SB) and juniors Luke Dupuis (.386, 31 R) and Fischer Hendershot (.396, 25 RBI) also among team offensive leaders. Dutkowski is tied for eighth among winningest baseball coaches in state history.

Record/rank: 34-5, No. 1
Coach: Brent Gates, 11th season (296-87)
League finish: First in O-K White
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Cam Seth, sr. IF/P (.370, 38 R, 22 SB, 4-3 pitching, 1.90 ERA); Ty Uchman, sr. IF/P (.482, 48 R, 9 3B, 52 RBI, 17 SB, 8-0 pitching, 1.50 ERA); Kyle Remington, sr. IF/P (.435, 59 R, 12 2B, 28 RBI, 26 SB, 9-0 pitching); Jackson Isaacs, jr. OF (.380, 43 R, 41 RBI, 26 SB).
Outlook: Grand Rapids Christian finished Division 2 runner-up last season and returns seven starters this weekend from that championship game lineup including pitcher Seth. Remington and Isaacs made the all-state first team last spring, the former now one of six seniors in this weekend’s anticipated starting lineup. The Eagles followed up a Regional Final win over No. 2 Stevensville Lakeshore on Saturday with a Quarterfinal victory over No. 11 Olivet, putting up double-digits in the latter – Christian’s 17th game this season scoring 10 runs or more.

Record/rank: 25-11, No. 3
Coach: Dan Cimini, 17th season (513-137)
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Jarren Purify, sr. SS (.446, 43 R, 14 2B, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 24 SB); Reggie Sharpe, jr. 2B/P (.395, 32 R, 11 SB, 5-2 pitching, 2.80 ERA); Oliver Service, sr. C (.392, 38 R, 10 2B, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 12 SB); Preston Barr, jr. P (.347, 35 RBI, 5-1 pitching, 1.47 ERA).
Outlook: After winning the Division 3 championship in 2021 and losing in last year’s District to eventual runner-up Detroit Edison, Liggett made the jump to Division 2 this spring and has as much star power as any team playing this weekend. Purify made the all-state first team last season and will continue at Clemson, Service made the all-state second team and will continue at Texas, and senior Jack Jones will play next for Michigan State. Senior Jake Martin is another key bat (.320, 31 RBI), and senior Joey Randazzo (7-3, 3.00 ERA) is expected to take the hill for the Semifinal.

Division 3

Record/rank: 36-3, No. 1
Coach: Scott Thaler, seventh season (142-85-6)
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Brandon Williams, sr. OF (.348, 34 RBI); Tyler Schultz, sr. IF/C (.397, 42 R, 30 RBI, 17 SB); Evan Saddler, jr. C/OF (.321, 48 R, 31 SB); Josh Kasner, jr. P/IF (.378, 51 R, 37 RBI, 21 SB, 10-0 pitching, 0.68 ERA, 130 K/72 IP).
Outlook: Algonac is making its first trip to the Semifinals thanks in part to a 5-3 Regional Final win over No. 4 Ecorse, and with its only losses to ranked teams in Division 2. The Muskrats have a returning all-state first-team ace in Kasner, but plenty of pitching to fill out the weekend as well with sophomore Bryce Simpson (6-0, 1.18 ERA) and seniors Andrew Thomason (8-1, 1.56) and Noah Maniaci (5-0, 1.82) also in the rotation this spring. Four players have at least 20 stolen bases, and the team has 149 total – one shy of making the MHSAA record book.

Record/rank: 31-9, No. 16
Coach: Justin Hahaj, 11th season (218-107)
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore
Championship history: Class D champion 1987, two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Alec MacMartin, jr. P/SS (.349, 50 R, 27 RBI, 10 SB, 11-2 pitching, 1.99 ERA, 73 K/70 1/3 IP); Reid Haskins, sr. OF/P (.411, 46 R, 27 RBI, 32 SB, 5-1 pitching, 1.07 ERA); Charlie Pagel, soph. 1B/P (.398, 34 R, 15 2B, 43 RBI, 7-4 pitching, 2.42 ERA); Cooper Allwood, fr. 3B (.409, 34 R, 28 RBI).
Outlook: The Bees are a combined 84-20 over the last three seasons and making their first Semifinal trip since 2013 while on a string of 16 wins over their last 17 games. They have three one-run victories during the tournament, including 10-9 over No. 15 Niles Brandywine in the District Final. Eight of 13 players are seniors; the other five are sophomores and freshmen. Sophomore Wade Haskins (.398, 30 R, 35 RBI) and senior Tanner Peters (.347) also help fill out a potent lineup.

Record/rank: 23-5, No. 8
Coach: Randy Farlin, seventh season (95-42-1)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Championship history: Class C champion 1996, Division 3 runner-up 2012.
Players to watch: Drew Tolfre, soph. P/OF (8-0 pitching, 0.52 ERA); Daniel Shipman, sr. P/IF/OF (.458); Drew Diehl, jr. P/C (7-2 pitching, 1.11 ERA); Drew Burlingame, sr. P/C (.352).
Outlook: Lansing Catholic is making its first Semifinals trip since the runner-up season of 2012, having navigated an impressive set of playoff opponents including No. 4 North Muskegon, No. 12 Pewamo-Westphalia, No. 14 Watervliet and No. 20 Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. The Cougars also swept No. 10 Jackson Lumen Christi during the regular season and have won 12 of their last 13 games.

Record/rank: 29-14, unranked
Coach: Ryan Raymond, seventh season (169-64-3)
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference Blue
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Cody Bartlett, sr. P/OF (6-1 pitching, 0.88 ERA); Brayden Schabel, sr. OF (.364); Sam Briggs, soph. P/OF (.398, 44 R, 19 2B, 62 RBI, 8-0 pitching, 1.01 ERA, 73 K/55 1/3 IP); Cooper Prout, jr. IF/P (.485, 39 RBI, 5-0 pitching, 1.17 ERA).
Outlook: In its first Semifinal last season since 1976, Standish-Sterling went to extra innings – and the Panthers will return trying to make a first championship game despite graduating three all-state first teamers from that lineup. They earned the opportunity by defeating No. 9 Charlevoix in the Regional Final and No. 13 Gladstone in the Quarterfinal, and they entered the postseason coming off a split with Division 2 No. 5 Bay City John Glenn. This team has only four seniors total, but high hopes beyond this weekend with four sophomores and two freshmen in the expected lineup.

Division 4

Record/rank: 29-8, No. 4
Coach: Brad Antcliff, 11th season (337-72-5)
League finish: First in Highland Conference
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Jack Fussman, sr. OF (.484, 50 R, 45 RBI, 25 SB); Blake Walcutt, fr. OF (.342, 34 R, 28 RBI, 14 SB); Cayden Smith, jr. P/SS (.400, 54, 36 SB, 5-2 pitching, 1.66 ERA); Josh Wilson, jr. P/1B (.466, 41 R, 11 2B, 48 RBI, 15 SB, 7-3 pitching, 2.01 ERA).
Outlook: Last season’s runner-up is led again by two-time championship-winning coach Antcliff, who directed the program from 2007-16 and returned this spring. The Aggies graduated five all-state honorees a year ago but did return Wilson, who joined four teammates on the first team last season. He’s second only to Fussman as Beal City has a .334 team batting average, and Aggies have put up a combined 53 runs over five postseason wins while giving up just four. That’s made more impressive given three of those wins were over No. 3 Fowler, No. 11 Maple City Glen Lake and No. 12 Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.

Record/rank: 24-14-1, unranked
Coach: Smiley Verduzco, third season (76-34-1)
League finish: Tied for third in SAC Valley
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2021.
Players to watch: Brooks Basler, soph. P/3B (5-4 pitching, 0.88 ERA); Andrew Rann, jr. 1B (.408, 36 RBI); Nick Verduzco, sr. SS (.525, 55 R, 19 2B, 42 RBI, 48 SB); Eli Backman, jr. IF (.415, 51 R, 31 SB).
Outlook: The 2021 champion didn’t advance past its first District game a year ago but stormed back this spring with a run that’s included victories over No. 6 Decatur and No. 20 Byon Center Zion Christian. The Irish ended this regular season losing three of their final four games, but have rebounded to outscore their five postseason opponents by a combined 45-10. Nick Verduzco made the all-state first team last season and will play next at Ashland; he’s one of only three seniors in the starting lineup. The team’s 183 stolen bases – and the Irish have been caught just 13 times – rank 11th all-time.

Record/rank: 33-7, No. 2
Coach: Joe Bottorff, 16th season (221-117-2)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Noah Etnyre, sr. C/IF/P (.540, 48 R, 22 2B, 46 RBI); Tyler Scott, soph. P/OF (.388, 28 RBI, 9-0 pitching, 0.80 ERA, 70 K/52 2/3 IP); Jordan Scott, sr. P/IF/OF (.496, 37 R, 12 2B, 54 RBI, 11-2 pitching, 1.97 ERA, 100 K/64 IP); Riley Brodhagen, sr. P/OF (.252, 34 R, 6-1 pitching, 1.26 ERA).
Outlook: After winning a sixth-straight District title and second Regional title over the last five seasons, Plymouth Christian will make its first trip to the Semifinals thanks to defeating No. 16 Royal Oak Shrine Catholic in a Quarterfinal. Etnyre made the all-state second team as a catcher last season and is one of five senior starters. Sophomore Micah Lavigne (.330, 32 R) and freshman Luke Janigian (.329, 26 R) are two more key bats at the bottom of the lineup; Lavigne also is 5-0 on the mound.  

Record/rank: 19-19, unranked
Coach: Billy Mitchell, third season (56-38)
League finish: Third in Straits Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Aiden Bickel, jr. IF/P (.458, 37 R, 32 SB, 6-2 pitching, 3.76 ERA); Kallan Lawlor, jr. OF/P (.299, 26 R, 18 SB); Cam Peterson, jr. IF/P (.450, 33 R, 29 RBI, 29 SB); Landen Mayer, jr. IF/P (.380, 31 R, 23 RBI, 24 SB).
Outlook: Rudyard is making a second-straight trip to the Semifinals, but this one was a little unexpected after graduating three all-state honorees and entering the postseason at 14-19. Nearly all of those losses came to larger schools including a handful from Divisions 1 and 2, and during the playoffs the Bulldogs have eliminated top-ranked Indian River Inland Lakes, No. 7 Painesdale Jeffers and No. 19 Mackinaw City. Peterson made the all-state second team last season and hits third in a lineup with just one senior.

PHOTO Novi’s Andrew Krummer takes a lead off first during his team’s Quarterfinal win Saturday over Battle Creek Lakeview. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)