Yes, It’s True: It’s hard to argue with Cheri Ritz’s Wildcat softball success

Cheri Ritz

The significant number that came up at the end of the district tournament won Saturday by the Wayland softball was 25.

Coach Cheri Ritz posted on Facebook that it was the 25th time the Wildcats have brought home that trophy, the vast majority during her tenure. Research this week at the Then & Now Historical Library also revealed that it was 25 years ago this week that she guided Wayland to an O-K Gold Conference championship for her first time.

But that brings up the number 27, which is how many league championships the ‘Cats have copped since softball entered its deserved spot as a recognized interscholastic sport by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Ritz herself commonly refers to this year’s Wildcats as Team 47. That’s because they’ve been playing competitively since 1975.

This week I’ve spent some time trying to research Wayland’s potential opponents for next Saturday’s regional tournament eight here in this town. I’ve have failed, or rather, sources of information have failed.

I was able to pick up on Otsego’s 23-11 overall record. But there was only spotty information about the other two district champions, Vicksburg and Stevensville Lakeshore. Wayland will play Vicksburg at 10 a.m. Saturday and Lakeshore will take on Otsego at noon, and the finals will get under way at 2 p.m.

Many fans and parents may recall last year’s district game with Otsego, which led 6-3 until the sixth inning when the ‘Cats erupted with a six-run rally to win it for a battered, but not bruised pitcher in Emma Ludema, who threw a gutsy game against a team that featured the state’s home run leader. Ludema will be back at it this weekend, as will many colleagues who played in that memorable contest.

All of this highlights the huge successes for girls’ sports at Wayland High School. As I pointed out in March, the Wildcats accomplished the rare feat of capturing three regional championships in three different sports within one year — softball, basketball and bowling.

But Ritz’s accomplishments have been even more noteworthy. She’s been at the helm for more than 900 victories and two state championships.

To be sure, there are fans and parents who don’t like the way she coaches, many of them actually upset that she hasn’t played their kids enough over the years. It’s very difficult to argue with her success, which is even greater than legends such as Zack Moushegian and Mike Hudson.

What has impressed me most in recent times is that she suffered through a rare losing season, 17-19, in 2019 and didn’t win a district or league title that year. She and her charges had a year off because of Covid to stew about it, and then promptly went back to work, reloaded and regained their chops on the diamond in 2021, losing only in the state quarterfinals to the eventual champion, Owosso, in extra innings. Yet they were not rated among the state’s top 10 Division 2 teams all season, nor were they recognized for same this year.

This leads me to believe there has been a serious breakdown in information sharing statewide and even locally with the loss of community print journalism. I don’t know how such a travesty in lack of recognition can be explained otherwise.

But when I stumbled onto Wayland’s district title 25 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice the story about how freshman sensation Kara Potter hurled a no-hitter for one of the victories. Today, her daughters are Liberty and Harmony Laker, the latter the No. 2 pitcher on this year’s squad.

You might want to call this small-town family softball. After all, Ritz’s nieces, Jessie, Brittany and Macy Merchant all were all-state and played college ball. Assistant coach and niece Nicki Cardosa played at Ferris. And Jessie was the top home run hitter for NCCA champion University of Michigan.

The legend lives on in stereo hi-fi. And now I hear tell she is retiring from teaching. Not coaching.

1 Comment

  • Cheri’s family has been a huge support for their daughter. She is a GREAT gal and a superb coach. I was on the school board at her beginning. It was fun watching her turn the program around to be always competitive. Congrats Cheri!!

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