By Nick McVey
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The home run has always been the centerpiece of the softball record books. It provides the biggest draw for fans, giving spectators an opportunity for a free souvenir. As arguably the most documented statistic in the game, one can hardly have a discussion about a batter without asking or being asked about her power.
Youngsters play through situations in their backyard with the common outcome of hitting a game-winning home run. Few players actually grow up to play the part of a real-life power hitter. Many develop different skill sets, leading them to hit for average or race around the base paths. Of the few that do become home run hitters, it is even rarer for a hitter to make her mark in the record books as one of her program’s elite power hitters.
For the past four years, Iowa State has been home to not one, but two of these players. Cyclone seniors Erica Miller and Tori Torrescano have emerged as the backbone of the batting order over their careers. At the end of the season, one will finish her career as the all-time home run leader in program history. Torrescano is currently in the lead with 40 career home runs; Miller is sitting on 32 home runs.
Torrescano (San Diego) and Miller (Pomona) grew up within 120 miles of each other in California, first meeting when Tori tried out as a pitcher for Erica’s club softball team, which had qualified for ASA Nationals. They became quick friends upon learning that they would be continuing their softball careers together at Iowa State.
Their friendship has only strengthened during their time as Cyclones. The sluggers have common tastes in music and jump at a chance to go to a concert. When it comes to practice and team workouts, the two often partner up, pushing each other to get better and stronger.
“We’re great friends. It’s great that we’re able to push each other and get each other excited about the game,” Miller said. “Every once in a while we challenge the other one after getting a hit that now it’s the other one’s turn. We push each other and have that confidence in each other.”
Both admit to a little friendly competition but are quick to acknowledge that it never results in animosity.
“It’s nice having [Erica] there with me and the healthy competition we have,” Torrescano said. “Sometimes on a team, players are battling constantly and it turns a little negative. It’s never been that way for us.”
Torrescano holds top Cyclone marks for home runs (14) and RBI’s (44) in a single season and is third in doubles (13), slugging over .600 in both her sophomore and junior campaigns. The senior expected to be successful at Iowa State but didn’t see herself atop the Cyclone record books. Iowa State head softball coach Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler attributes her success as a power hitter to her swing.
“Tori always seems to get her hands and hips in a good, strong position to hit,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said. “It’s very natural for her, and she has a very good feel for her swing.”
Miller posted the sixth-best single-season batting average (.364) in program history a year ago and is second only to Torrescano for homeruns (11) and RBI’s (40) in a single season. Over her career at Iowa State, Miller acknowledged the pace of Big 12 games as one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome.
“The pace of the game was a tough change for me, catching up to this level of play,” Miller said. “When you’re batting, you’ll probably only get one good pitch to hit, and you have to be ready to take advantage of it.”
This season, Miller is doing just that. The Pomona native’s batting average is tops on the team at .383, and her slugging percentage (.638) is second to Torrescano (.793).
Hitting is contagious, and the universal mantra certainly holds true for the two Iowa Staters. The two have hit home runs in the same game or successive games numerous times throughout their Cyclone careers. It is an anomaly that can only be explained by the confidence they generate from one another.
“We know when both of us are hitting, then the chances of us winning are much greater,” Torrescano said. “If I see her hit the ball, then I know I can and want to hit the ball too. It’s a confidence-builder. And of course, we don’t want the other one to get too far ahead, especially in the home run race,” she added with a smile.
Torrescano and Miller have both received recognition as two of the Big 12’s top players. Both were named to the 2012 College Sports Madness All-Big 12 second team, and Miller was also honored as a first team All-Big 12 member in 2012. The power-hitting tandem also succeeds in the classroom, both being selected to the 2012 Academic All-Big 12 first team.
Iowa weather forced both Torrescano and Miller to make adjustments after playing a year-round season in a warm California climate. In Iowa, high school teams play in the summer due to the colder spring temperatures, while in California, high schools play their season in the spring with club teams playing in the summer and fall.
The Cyclone squad has an advantage over many schools to combat the weather. The Bergstrom Football Complex includes a turf playing surface of over 60,000 square feet, providing the team with a place to practice indoors when the weather prohibits it from practicing outside, which is a common occurrence during the Ames winters.
“It’s really great having a place to go when the weather gets bad,” Miller said. “I have friends at other schools that, when the weather keeps them off the field, they have to practice in the basketball gym. Having an indoor turf field is a huge perk of playing here.”
Iowa State continues Big 12 conference play on Friday, April 5th, when the Cyclones travel to take on Oklahoma State.