Wayland coach Cheri Ritz signals safe as Wildcat Sydney Urban scores in the first inning of an 11-0 win over St. Claire in the semifinals. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Wayland pitcher Mallory Teunissen prepares to deliver a pitch. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Members of the Wayland softball team huddle together after learning about the death of Bill Merchant, the father of Wildcat assistant coach Nicki Cardosa. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Bittersweet victory:

Wayland softball cruises in state semis, then learns of tragedy
Jason Wesseldyk

Wayland softball players and coaches streamed onto the field at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium to celebrate their 11-0 win over St. Clair in a Division 2 state semifinal game.

How could they have known that joyous celebration would soon take a decidedly somber turn?

Minutes after the conclusion of the game, Wildcat assist coach Nicki Cardosa was told her father, Bill Merchant, had died in a car accident earlier in the day.

Merchant was also the brother-in-law of Wayland coach Cheri Ritz and Wayland’s JV boys’ basketball coach. His three other daughters—Jessie, Brittini and Macy—were, like Cardosa, all standout athletes at Wayland and all went on to play collegiate softball.

“It's hard to go from a high to such a situation like this,” Ritz said. “(Cardosa’s) my niece. (Merchant) has four daughters who are all coaching softball and they were very good athletes. It’s going to be tough for all of them.”

For Ritz, the incident brought to mind another tragedy that struck her family.

“My dad was killed in a car accident, too,” Ritz said. “I was the AD at Wayland. It was after a basketball game. He was helping me and got in a car accident. Our family has been through this before.”

When asked what she told her players, Ritz said: “We have another angel in the sky. That's what I told them.”

The news received after the game stood in stark contrast to the game itself, which couldn’t have gone much better for the top-ranked Wildcats, who were playing in the semifinals for the third time in four years.

Wayland pushed four runs across the plate in the top of the first inning, with the frame jumpstarted by a leadoff single off the bat of Morgan Teunissen. Abby Merice then reached base on a fielder’s choice, with Teunissen and Merice each advancing a base on a sacrifice bunt by Caroline Miller.

Hailey Houck followed with an infield single to load the base, with Sydney Urban then walking to force in the game’s first run

An RBI fielder’s choice by Morgan Winger and a two-run single by Leigha Morse concluded the first-inning scoring.

That was more than enough support for pitcher Mallory Teunissen, who limited St. Clair to two hits and two walks in the five-inning, mercy-rule-shortened affair. She struck out nine and hit a pair of batters.

Only once did Mallory Teunissen allow a runner past first base.

“I said, 'Let's score the first inning so we don't have any stress,’” said Mallory Teunissen, who improved to 32-2 for the season with a school-record 385 strikeouts. “My sister Morgan came up and got a hit and we scored and that just made the stress level for everybody so much easier.”

For the full story, pick up a copy of the June 18 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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