Carrying Heavy Hearts, Wayland Soars

June 13, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — It should have been one of the happiest moments in Leigha Morse's young life, but she couldn't keep from breaking down in tears.

Morse apologized several times for crying while talking about her two-homer performance in Wayland's 11-0 victory over Frankenmuth in the MHSAA Division 2 softball championship game Saturday at Michigan State University. 

She was hardly alone. In a surreal celebration scene, the Wildcats struggled to balance the joy of winning a championship with the sorrow of losing a close member of the Wayland softball family.

Bill Merchant, the father of Wayland assistant coach Nicki Cardosa, was killed in an automobile accident two days earlier. His death came before the Wildcats took the field to play in their MHSAA Semifinal, but the players and coaches weren't notified until after the game. 

On Saturday, they returned to the same field with the knowledge of Merchant's tragic death still fresh in their minds.

"We made sure that, even with the heartbreak of the Merchant family, we knew we had to pick them up and stay with them," senior pitcher Mallory Teunissen said. "We prayed for them. We made sure that, even though it was a hard loss, that we sang the song we always sing and everybody was still pumped up for this game." 

Wayland coach Cheri Ritz said Friday's practice went well until she broke down. Local pastors were brought in to talk with the players. A T-shirt from Wayland's 2006 championship team, on which Merchant had two daughters, and one of his hats were found in his house. They hung in Wayland's dugout for the championship game.

"It was pretty emotional for Nicki and I," said Ritz, who was Merchant's sister-in-law. 

The Wildcats (36-2) put their sorrow aside once they stepped between the lines, turning in a dominant performance that saw Morse set one record and Teunissen nearly tie another.

Morse became the first player to hit two homers in an MHSAA Final, sending a solo shot over the 220-foot mark in center field in the second inning and lining a three-run homer over the left field fence in the seventh to cap the scoring. 

"I just went up and said, 'Do it for him,'" Morse said. "(Cardosa) has not only been my coach in this, but volleyball as well. She's like a second mom to me."

Teunissen struck out 17 batters, one shy of the MHSAA Finals record for a seven-inning game shared by Kalamazoo Christian's Keri DeJong (1996) and Galesburg-Augusta's Jackie Bowe (2008). Only three other pitchers, including DeJong in 1998, had 17 strikeouts in a seven-inning game.

Teunissen had a no-hitter until Frankenmuth's Ivy Holland singled with two outs in the fifth inning. She allowed four hits and walked three, including the first two batters of the game.

"I just get out there and try to do my thing, make sure my pitches are working," Teunissen said. "In the beginning I walked a few batters, but I had to shake it off."

Frankenmuth had runners on second and third with one out after the two walks in the first inning, but didn't score.

Wayland scored in each of the first three innings to build a 5-0 lead.

Morgan Teunissen, one of three sisters on the team, led off the game with a single and scored on a two-out single to short center field by Hailey Houck to open the scoring.

Morse made it 2-0 by blasting her first homer in the second inning.

The Wildcats broke it open with a three-run third during which they had three extra-base hits. Doubles by Abby Merice and Houck, and a single by Mallory Teunissen scored one run apiece.

After stranding a runner on third and failing to score in the fourth, Wayland tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning when Morgan Winger lined a double over the left fielder’s head.

Frankenmuth's best chance to score came in the sixth when Amariah Wright headed for home on a single by Kayla Brooks, only to be thrown out by center fielder Abby Merice.

Morse's three-run homer capped a four-run seventh inning for Wayland. The first run of the inning scored on a home run by sophomore Bethany Teunissen, an all-stater last season who nearly missed this entire season with a knee injury. Teunissen didn't start Saturday. 

"I just get one at-bat normally a game," she said. "It was difficult. I just loved cheering on the team while I was out. It was a great opportunity to come back."

"My little sister Bethany came back from an ACL and she finally got that hit," Mallory Teunissen said. "I can't say how proud I am of her. She tore her ACL in basketball. We weren't sure if she'd be back for the tournament or not. She's an incredible player. I'm so glad she got to get back and I got to play with her my senior year." 

Frankenmuth finished with a 37-4-1 record, reaching an MHSAA Final for the third time in school history.

"We played so well all year, then we laid an egg a little bit," Frankenmuth coach Brad Walraven said. "Their pitcher beat us up. That was a good team. You feel lousy for losing the game, but there's 130 other schools who would love to be in our shoes. It was a tough loss, but a great season. It was a wonderful team that I have. I'm going to miss my seven seniors." 

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Wayland players and coaches hoist their MHSAA championship trophy after claiming their first title since 2006. (Middle) Pitcher Mallory Teunissen struck out 17 Frankenmuth batters Saturday.

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)