Wayland comes up short in pitchers’ dual with Spring Lake
You’d expect a game featuring the second-ranked and sixth-ranked softball teams in Division 2 to be a close, nip-and-tuck affair.
That’s exactly what the regional semifinal at Hope College between Wayland and Spring Lake was.
In a game that was largely dominated by pitching, it was Spring Lake’s Leah Vaughan and her teammates that snuck past Wayland’s Abby Merice and her squad by a 2-1 final.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats ended the season at 20-6-1.
“Both pitchers threw extremely well,” longtime Wayland coach Cheri Ritz said. “That’s why you get a 2-1 ballgame.
“The entire game I believed we could win and felt really good about it. We were peaking at the right time of year and playing well at the end of the season, like you want to be. I really felt good about it.”
Those good feeling continued into the seventh inning when, facing the one-run deficit, Wayland had the heart of its order due up to face Vaughan.
“We had our three-four-five hitters coming up and I was confident they would hit,” Ritz said.
But Vaughan had other ideas, retiring the Wildcats in order to seal Wayland’s fate.
Spring Lake coach Bill Core has become quite familiar with Wayland in recent seasons, as the Lakers have squared off with the Wildcats at the regional level three of the past four years.
“When you talk Wayland softball and Cheri Ritz, there’s no program in the area that’s been more magical than them in the postseason,” Core said. “We knew we were in for a battle. That was a heck of a game.”
Vaughan finished her complete-game win with one run allowed on three hits with nine strikeouts. She also produced two of the four hits Spring Lake had against Merice.
One of Vaughan’s hits—a third-inning single—drove in the first Spring Lake run of the game. Vaughan had a 3-2 count on her and fouled off several of Merice’s pitches before coming up with the hit.
Later in the inning, Alicia Mumby singled to drive in the Lakers’ second run to give her team the 2-0 lead.
Wayland responded in the fifth inning, getting a solo home run from Lauren McCulligh to narrow the gap to 2-1.
“Lauren played great for us,” Ritz said. “This was a great game for her to end her high school career on.”
Wayland threatened to do more damage in the fifth, getting a single. But Vaughan made a diving catch on bunt attempt and threw back to first base for the double play.
The next Wayland hitter, Ava Dutkiewicz, followed with a single, but was left stranded at first base.
“If the bunt goes down, then we score a run when Dutkiewicz comes up and rips a single to the outfield,” Ritz said. “I think if we would have scored there, it would have been a game-changer.”
Merice finished the game with five strikeouts.
“Merice was great today for them,” Core said. “She threw a little quicker than we were expecting, which resulted in a lot of foul balls because we were just missing on our cuts.
“We didn’t have a ton of baserunners today, but we had timely hitting.”
For the season, Merice posted a 1.85 ERA with 213 strikeouts compared to 21 walks. She was no slouch at the plate, either, hitting a team-leading .482 with three home runs, seven triples, six doubles and 35 runs.
While the Wildcats’ season didn’t end the way they would have liked—with a state championship, of course—Ritz said she will still take many fond memories from the season.
“Winning conference and district championships is always memorable,” she said. “We also beat the second-ranked team in Division 1—Anchor Bay—and bested Lowell twice. Those are all things I’ll remember from this season.”
And Ritz looks forward to carrying on the success of her program next season.
“We’ll be young in spots, but we have some talent coming up into the program,” she said. “We will have a group that will work hard to earn their positions.”