Wayland's Hannah Sikkema (right) and her Wildcat teammates wore ribbons to honor the late Bill Merchant, father of assistant coach Nicki Cardosa. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Wayland catcher Leigha Morse (left) and pitcher Mallory Teunissen celebrate after an inning during the state title game. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Wayland coach Cheri Ritz (right) embraces assistant coach Nicki Cardosa after the Wildcats' 11-0 win over Frankenmuth in the Division 2 state finals. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)Wayland's Morgan Teunissen receives congratulations for Wildcat coach Cheri Ritz after hitting a triple against Frankenmuth. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Wayland softball claims state title with emotional win

Jason Wesseldyk

Wayland sophomore Leigha Morse desperately wanted to honor the memory of Bill Merchant during the Division 2 softball state finals on Saturday, June 13.

It’s safe to say the Wildcat catcher did just that.

Morse set a new Michigan High School Athletic Association record with two home runs to help power top-ranked Wayland to the 11-0 win over No. 10 Frankenmuth.

“I went up there and said I wanted to hit the ball hard,” Morse said. “I wanted to do it for (Merchant).”

Merchant, the father of Wayland assistant coach Nicki Cardosa and the school’s JV boys’ basketball coach, was killed in a car accident prior to the Wildcats’ semifinal game with St. Claire two days earlier. The team didn’t find out about it until the game was over.

And while the tragedy hit all the Wayland players hard, it was particularly tough on Morse.

“Leigha’s mom actually babysits for Nicki’s kids, so their families are pretty close,” said Wayland coach Cheri Ritz, who was Merchant’s sister-in-law.

Morse echoed those sentiments.

“This means everything,” Morse said. “We are doing this for Coach Cardosa. It was all for her and her dad. It means the world to us and I’m so happy to be here with this group of girls.”

Morse and her teammates came up with the idea of honoring Merchant by wearing white ribbons with the initials “B.M.” on one side and the words “Love Wins” on the other.

“The white represented an angel,” said Wayland senior pitcher Mallory Teunissen, who struck out 17 and allowed four hits in earned the shutout victory.

The team also hung one of Merchant’s T-shirts and hats in the dugout.

“The girls found the T-shirt at his house from our last state championship (in 2006) when two of his daughters were on the team,” Ritz said. “They also four the hat he wore. They hung that in the dugout, too, which was pretty emotional for Nicki and I, but it was pretty cool, too.”

Teunissen said while the team was committed to honoring Merchant, the players realized they also had a job to do.

“With the heartbreak of the Merchant family, we tried to pick them up and we prayed for them,” Teunissen said. “But we also tried to make sure everyone was still pumped up and we kept things as normal as possible.”

The Wayland offense certainly seemed to be pumped up from start to finish, as the Wildcats scored in every inning but two, including multiple runs in three frames.

That included a first-inning run to give Wayland a quick 1-0 lead as senior Morgan Teunissen led off with a single and later scored on an RBI single by Hailey Houck.

“It was a awesome day for our hitting,” Teunissen said. “I say before every game, ‘Let’s go out and score first.’ And we were able to do that.”

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

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