Preview: Finals Memories Finally to be Made Again at McLane

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 15, 2021

The wait to return to Michigan State University and McLane Baseball Stadium for MHSAA Semifinals and Finals finally will come to an end this weekend. And what a return it will be.

The 16-team field is headlined by two of the most star-studded in recent memory in Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Portage Central. Six contenders will be playing to reach the final day of the season for the first time. And nine teams will be pursuing their first championships – with a guaranteed first-time title winner in Division 4.

Division 1 - Thursday
Midland Dow vs. Portage Central - 9 a.m.
Grand Blanc vs. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice - 11:30 a.m.

Division 2 - Friday
New Boston Huron vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's - 9 a.m.
Stevensville Lakeshore vs. Gladwin - 11:30 a.m.

Division 3 - Thursday
Traverse City St. Francis vs. Richmond - 2:30 p.m.
Buchanan vs. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett - 5 p.m.

Division 4 - Friday 
Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep vs. Marlette - 2:30 p.m.
Maple City Glen Lake vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney - 5 p.m.

FINALS - June 19
Division 1 - 9 a.m.
Division 2 - 2:30 p.m.
Division 3 - 11:30 a.m.
Division 4 - 5 p.m.

Tickets cost $9.40 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: 29-10, unranked
Coach: Bob Riker, 23rd season (633-226-4)
League finish: Second in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Will Shannon, sr. C (.372, 14 2B, 43 RBI); Alfredo Velazquez, soph. OF (.360, 11 2B, 29 RBI, 29 R); Brayden Dowd, soph. OF (.286, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 31 R); John Locker, sr. P (2.14 ERA, 77 K/39 1/3 IP).
Outlook: This will be the team’s third-straight trip to the Semifinals. The Warriors defeated No. 5 Livonia Stevenson and No. 13 Brownstown Woodhaven during their Regional run, after finishing runner-up in their league to St. Mary’s and ahead of four more teams that won at least District titles (and U-D Jesuit reached the Quarterfinals before losing to the Warriors). Rice did so with Shannon the only senior (non-pitcher) in the starting lineup, although Locker is expected to start on the mound Thursday and senior Blaise Wilcenski (1.57 ERA, 58 K/35 2/3 IP) is another key arm.

Record/rank: 31-11, unranked
Coach: Kevin Hubbs, fifth season (98-93)
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Jonah Meleski, sr. OF (.435, 44 R, 34 RBI, 36 SB); David Lally, jr. P/IF (.414, 38 R, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 10-3 pitching, 0.95 ERA 78 K/57 2/3 IP); Nate Helms, jr. P/IF (.337, 6 HR, 32 RBI, 5-2 pitching, 2.20 ERA); Hunter Ames, jr. C/IF (.371, 32 R, 22 RBI).
Outlook: Grand Blanc followed up its first Regional championship by earning its first trip the Semifinals, holding its five postseason opponents to a combined three runs including a shutout of No. 15 Utica Ford. The Bobcats finished second in their league only to No. 17 Midland. The team as a whole is hitting .309 and can create havoc on the bases having stolen 136 this season while getting caught only 16 times. Senior Tim Welsh is another big bat hitting .358 over 21 games and slated to start the Semifinal at first base. Lally has committed to sign with Notre Dame.

Record/rank: 27-14, unranked
Coach: Rich Juday, fifth season (97-53)
League finish: Tied for fifth in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Class A runner-up 1983 and 1987.
Players to watch: Trent Johnson, sr. P/UTY (.344, 13 2B, 24 RBI, 9-2 pitching, 2.01 ERA 66 K/73 IP); Logan McCoy, sr. P/IF (.495, 39 R, 14 2B, 46 RBI, 4 saves pitching); Jack Bakus, soph. P/IF (.405, 31 R, 13 2B, 7 HR, 37 RBI); Daniel Kowalczyk, jr. OF (.376, 25 RBI).
Outlook: Dow also has emerged from the competitive SVL and advanced to this weekend with a one-run Quarterfinal win over No. 9 Hudsonville. The Chargers have steadily upped their wins under Juday and with one more will have their most under the former Dow and Michigan State standout – who also has coached at MSU, Northwood and in the Oakland A’s minor league system. Total, eight regulars are hitting .338 or better, with senior Riley Nelson (.368, 10 SB) and junior Bill VanSumeren (.360, 11 2B) among those also standing out in multiple offensive categories.

Record/rank: 34-4, No. 2
Coach: Cory DeGroote, third season (55-14)
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2002, Class A runner-up 1997.
Players to watch: Luke Leto, sr. IF/P (.495, 71 R, 13 2B, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 31 SB); Nick Ford, sr. IF (.411, 37 RBI, 4 saves pitching); Zach MacDonald, sr. OF (.521, 63 R, 16 2B, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 18 SB); Gavin Brasosky, sr. P/IF (.358 10 HR, 41 RBI, 9-0 pitching, 0.82 ERA, 117 K/59 2/3 IP).
Outlook: Portage Central is making its first trip to the Semifinals since 2011 led by a star-loaded lineup. Leto is slated to play next at Louisiana State, Brasosky at Tennessee and MacDonald at Miami (Ohio), and the team as a whole is hitting .353 with those three and Ford packing the first four spots in the lineup. The Mustangs have defeated top-ranked Grand Ledge and No. 14 Battle Creek Lakeview during a tournament run that has seen them outscore five opponents by a combined 51-14. Seniors Ryan Dotson (7-2, 1.95 ERA) and Cody Stewart (7-0) also are among a number of reliable arms.

Division 2

Record/rank: 25-9-1, unranked
Coach: Troy Gary, ninth season (148-98-5)
League finish: Fourth in Jack Pine Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Lucas Mead, soph. OF (.457, 46 R, 31 SB); Ian Graves, sr. P (9-1, 1.84 ERA, 60 K/65 1/3 IP); Ethan Shea, sr. 1B (.333, 33 RBI, 4-3 pitching); Lincoln McKinnon, soph. 3B (.381, 11 2B, 26 RBI).
Outlook: Gladwin won its first Regional title since 2014 and second all-time, and this will be the program’s first trip to the Semifinals. The Flying G’s have won three of their five tournament games by one run, including a 4-3 Regional Semifinal victory over No. 8 Bay City John Glenn. The team has only four seniors but seven sophomores including four who start. Sophomore shortstop Connor Dee (.319, 28 RBI) and junior catcher Aaron Kozlow (.353, 14 SB) provide more offensive punch, and senior second baseman/pitcher Hunter Williams has stolen 27 bases without being caught and also has a 1.48 ERA.   

Record/rank: 26-7, No. 4
Coach: Philip Yancey, sixth season (94-54)
League finish: First in Huron League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Rickey Emelian, sr. CF/P (.340, 29 RBI, 13 SB, 3-0 pitching, 0.74 ERA, 3 saves); Mathew Williams, jr. RF (.381, 43 R, 32 SB); Chase Molnar, sr. P/SS (.375, 10 SB, 8-0 pitching, 1.67 ERA, 56 K/51 IP, 3 saves); Ethan Webb, sr. C/1B (.365, 5 HR, 39 RBI).
Outlook: This will be the program’s first appearance at the Semifinals, and Huron has been building toward a run like this over Yancey’s tenure reaching 20 wins in 2018 and winning a District title in 2019. The Chiefs downed No. 6 Trenton 7-5 in the Quarterfinal after splitting a pair with the Trojans in early April, and four of their seven losses came over two doubleheaders to ranked Division 1 teams. Eight hitters are batting .338 or better on the season, and senior Thomas McSwain (5-0, 1.46 ERA) and junior Cole Grunwald (4-0) also are undefeated on the mound.

Record/rank: 41-1, No. 1
Coach: Matt Petry, 11th season (252-142-2)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Alex Mooney, sr. SS (.462, 67 R, 9 HR, 54 RBI); Brock Porter, jr. P (11-0, 0.50 ERA, 115 K/55 2/3 IP); Jake Dresselhouse, jr. OF (.413, 70 R, 14 HR, 60 RBI); Ike Irish, jr. C (.432, 48 R, 12 2B, 12 HR, 53 RBI).
Outlook: St. Mary’s has been recognized all season as one of the top high school teams in the nation, with its only defeat this spring 2-1 to Division 1 No. 16 Saline. The roster is loaded with future college players who have signed or committed to do so, including Alex Mooney (Duke), Porter (Clemson), Irish (Auburn), juniors Jack Crighton and Nolan Schubart and sophomore Jasen Oliver (Michigan), junior Jake Dresselhouse (Michigan State) and sophomore Ryan Mooney (Notre Dame). Senior Tommy Allman (Jacksonville) is another top thrower at 10-0 with a 1.27 ERA, while Schubart (.416, 9 HR, 53 RBI) and Crighton (.440, 37 R, 37 RBI) are among other big bats. Alex Mooney made the all-state first team in 2019, and Schubart made the second team.

Record/rank: 27-11, No. 16
Coach: Mark Nate, 16th season (384-177-1)
League finish: Fifth in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Division 2 champions 2017 and 2018, Class B champion 1990.
Players to watch: Ryan Kolessar, jr. OF (.383, 19 SB); Zach Warren, soph. IF/P (.345, 30 R, 22 SB, 8-1 pitching, 2.63 ERA); Trevor Griffiths, soph. OF (.385, 32 R, 28 SB); Grant Ruddell, sr. UTY (.359, 27 RBI, 17 SB).
Outlook: Lakeshore has won 18 of its last 20 games while adding a fourth-straight Regional title and earning a third Semifinals berth over those four seasons with postseason victories over No. 7 Edwardsburg and No. 9 Grand Rapids Christian. Ruddell and left fielder/pitcher Riley Adams (.349, 27 RBI, 19 SB, 3.26 ERA) are the team’s only seniors, and junior Vaughn Hurdle (5-1, 1.94) and freshman Noah Chase (8-2, 2.92 ERA) join Warren as part of a pitching staff that has gained valuable experience while shining this spring against a loaded schedule. Lakeshore has defeated three ranked Division 1 teams.

Division 3

Record/rank: 34-2, No. 1
Coach: Jim Brawley, third season (57-11)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red
Championship history: Class C champion 1985, three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Jack Branch, sr. P/IF/OF (.467, 40 R, 42 RBI, 11-0 pitching, 0.95 ERA, 74 K/66 1/3 IP); Matthew Hoover, jr. P/IF (.463, 44 R, 11 2B, 37 RBI, 14 SB, 9-1 pitching, 0.26 ERA, 110 K/55 IP); Drew Glavin, jr. P/IF/OF (.445, 47 R, 31 SB, 5-0 pitching, 0.75 ERA); Macoy West, jr. P/IF/OF (.390, 31 R, 13 2B, 50 RBI, 6-1 pitching, 0.36 ERA, 56 K/39 IP).
Outlook: Buchanan is headed to the Semifinals for the first time since finishing Division 3 runner-up in 2015, and after outscoring five playoff opponents by a combined 41-4. The Bucks have defeated No. 7 Pewamo-Westphalia, No. 11 North Muskegon and No. 15 Niles Brandywine during the tournament run, and their only losses this spring came by a run to Division 1 semifinalist Portage Central and during a split with Division 2 semifinalist Lakeshore. Four more regulars hit at least .311, and the team has only four seniors – including only two among its top six hitters and one among its top four pitchers.

Record/rank: 29-5, No. 2
Coach: Dan Cimini, 17th season (468-105)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Kurt Barr, jr. P/IF (.338, 11-1 pitching, 0.90 ERA, 110 K/69 1/3 IP); Matthew Greene, sr. CF (.400, 32 R, 10 2B, 32 RBI); Jack Jones, soph. P/OF (.365, 30 RBI, 10 SB, 8-1 pitching, 0.84 ERA, 57 K/57 IP); Jarren Purify, soph. SS (.411, 50 R, 11 2B, 34 SB).
Outlook: This will be Liggett’s eighth Semifinals appearance over the last 10 seasons, and the Knights were Division 3 runners-up in 2019. They played a loaded schedule and all five losses came to Division 1 or 2 teams including two to St. Mary’s, while the postseason has included wins over No. 3 Detroit Edison and No. 6 Blissfield. This is another team built to continue contending, with only two seniors in the starting lineup but also five sophomores and two freshmen. Sophomore Joey Randozzo (.388, 17 SB) tops four more regulars hitting at least .317, and junior Matthew Belcrest (5-0, 0.95 ERA, 54 K/36 2/3 IP) provides another solid option on the mound,

Record/rank: 30-5, No. 5
Coach: Scott Evans, 10th season (237-72)
League finish: Third in Blue Water Area Conference
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2013 and 2014.
Players to watch: Bennett Hitzelberger, jr. P/1B (.322, 32 R, 29 RBI, 10-0 pitching, 1.28 ERA, 91 K/60 IP); Reese Rinna, sr. RF (.468, 13 2B, 34 RBI); Joe Parinello, jr. C/P (.449, 32 R, 35 RBI); Carson Gee, sr. 3B (.371, 47 R, 11 2B, 25 SB).
Outlook: Richmond is headed back to the Semifinals for the first time since its back-to-back runner-up finishes. The Blue Devils have outscored their four postseason opponents by a combined 44-8, with wins over the last two weeks over No. 8 New Lothrop and No. 10 Algonac – the latter an 8-3 victory avenging two league losses. Richmond also split in league play with Division 2 No. 20 Croswell-Lexington. Sophomore Jackson Jones (.382, 11 2B, 27 RBI), junior Denny Salagan (.366, 20 SB) and senior Mitch Dobbelaer (.346) bolster the lineup, and junior Hudson Davenport (7-3, 1.40 ERA) is another top thrower and committed to Eastern Michigan.

Record/rank: 27-9, No. 14
Coach: Tom Passinault, seventh season (196-49)
League finish: First in Lake Michigan Conference
Championship history: Class D champion 1990, Division 3 runner-up 2017.
Players to watch: Charlie Peterson, jr. P/IB (.478, 45 R 16 2B, 6 HR, 56 RBI, 9-2 pitching, 1.94 ERA, 85 K/61 1/3 IP); Cody Richards, jr. IF/P (.429, 10 2B, 29 RBI); Aidan Schmuckal, sr. C (.477, 55 R, 28 RBI); Josh Groves, jr. OF (.371, 33 R).
Outlook: St. Francis has won 13 of its last 14 games, with just a split against No. 13 Boyne City during that time. Although this is an entirely different crew of players bringing the Gladiators back to the Semifinals, there is some relatable experience on the biggest stage – Peterson, Schmuckal and Groves all scored during the Division 7 football championship game in January. Seniors Jack Hitchens (5-2, 2.75 ERA), Corbin Domres (.315) and Jimmy Muzljakovich (30 R) also are among key contributors.

Division 4

Record/rank: 29-9, No. 5
Coach: Smiley Verduzco, first season (29-9)
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Brenden Collins, jr. CF/P (.554, 35 R, 17 2B, 56 RBI, 28 SB, 4-2 pitching); Stephen Kwapis, sr. 3B (.490, 61 R, 15 2B, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 29 SB); Nick Verduzco, soph. SS (.423, 53 R, 13 2B, 36 RBI, 15 SB); Steven Widger, sr. C (.472, 45 R, 10 2B, 34 RBI, 37 SB).
Outlook: Hackett is making its first trip to the Semifinals on the strength of a lineup hitting a combined .385 and averaging 9.2 runs per game. The postseason run has included wins by scores of 9-8 (over No. 18 Kalamazoo Christian) and 8-7 as the Irish have scored 51 runs total over five playoff games. Senior Sam Shea (9-2, 2.22 ERA, 72 K/63 IP) is slated to take the mound in the Semifinal, and he’s also one of eight in the lineup hitting .300 or better. Sophomore Patrick Ogrin (.424) is among five over .400, and junior Isaac Backman (.356, 20 SB) and freshman Eli Backman (.337, 10 SB) are among seven hitters who have stolen at least 10 bases. Kwapis has signed with Notre Dame.

Record/rank: 27-7, No. 8
Coach: Kris Herman, 17th season (392-217-6)
League finish: Second in Northwest Conference
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Players to watch: Mateo Gokey, jr. SS/P (.363, 29 R, 27 RBI, 10 SB, 4-0 pitching); Jon Popp, sr. 3B/P (.350, 26 R, 28 RBI, 11 SB, 5-1 pitching, 3.37 ERA, 75 K/43 2/3 IP); Ryan Flores, sr. 1B/P (.354, 32 R, 9-3 pitching, 3.16 ERA, 95/62 IP); Sean Galla, soph. OF/C (.382, 22 RBI).
Outlook: Glen Lake is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 2014 and charging into the weekend having scored at least 10 runs in six of its last nine games. The team is hitting a combined .319 with seven regulars at .313 or better – seniors Drew Barber (.382) and Jackson Ciolek (.322, 30 RBI) and junior Connor Ciolek (.313, 33 R, 21 SB) also are among contributors on that list. The 15-6 Quarterfinal win over No. 17 Gaylord St. Mary avenged a regular-season defeat.  

Record/rank: 27-6, No. 2
Coach: Mike Rice, fourth season (83-44)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Rocco Comito, sr. IF (.459, 34 RBI, 12 SB); Thomas Gill, sr. P (9-0, 0.60 ERA, 67 K/58 2/3 IP); Trent Rice, soph. P/OF (.495, 40 R, 12 2B, 44 SB, 2-0 pitching, 0.75 ERA); Blake Lutzky, soph. P/IF (.405, 13 SB, 6-1 pitching, 0.97 ERA, 70 K/50 2/3 IP).
Outlook: Cardinal Mooney has gone from struggling to fill the roster when Mike Rice first took over the program to winning its third Regional title all-time and making the Semifinals for the first time. Cardinal Mooney has outscored is five playoff opponents by a combined 59-6. Comito made the Division 4 all-state first team in 2019, and he, Gill and leadoff hitter Anthony DiGiuseppe (.369, 10 SB) are the lone seniors. Six regulars are hitting .325 or better, also including sophomore Ryan Trombley (.325), and junior Nathan Super is a super sub at .362 and 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA on the mound.

Record/rank: 22-9, No. 11
Coach: Dave Hayden, sixth season (71-75-2)
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference East
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Gavin Gage, sr. IF/P (.409, 29 R, 24 RBI, 2.14 ERA pitching); Travis Fuller, jr. C/P (.387, 38 R, 17 SB); Cody Hayden, sr. IF/P (.495, 33 RBI, 14 SB, 10-2 pitching, 1.21 ERA, 74 K/57 2/3 IP); Ethan Marshall, jr. IF/P (.309, 7-1 pitching, 1.13 ERA, 95 K/56 IP).
Outlook: Marlette is one of the great turnaround stories in the state over the last five seasons, with the next chapter its first Semifinal appearance. Led by also-soccer coach Dave Hayden, the Red Raiders have put together a combined 45-20-1 record with two league and two District titles over this spring and 2019 after going a combined 27-57-1 over the previous three seasons. Marlette downed No. 13 Muskegon Catholic Central for the Regional title and then defeated Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary in a second one-run win Saturday. Senior Logan Clark (.371, 21 SB) is another catalyst for a team hitting a combined .316, and junior Grant Roberson (1.40 ERA) provides another reliable arm.

PHOTO: Midland Dow’s Jack Bakus begins to step into a pitch against Bullock Creek during a game at Loons Stadium this spring. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)