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Friendly Competition Powering Cyclone Offense

logo_iowa_state_cyclonesAMES, Iowa – The home run has always been the centerpiece of softball record books. It provides one of the biggest draws 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 hit to the gaps. 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 school’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 31 career home runs; Miller is sitting on 29 home runs.

Torrescano (San Diego) and Miller (Pomona) grew up within 120 miles of each other in California. The two first met 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.

The friendship between the two 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, and 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 that way. We both 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 hasn’t been that way for us at all.”

Torrescano currently holds top Cyclone marks for home runs (14) and RBI’s (44) in a single season and 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 will probably only get one good pitch to hit, and you have to be ready to take advantage of that pitch.”

This season, Miller is doing just that. The Pomona native is hitting .512 and slugging .791, both team highs. Her batting average ranks her first amongst Big 12 players, and her on-base percentage of .593 ranks third in the conference.

Hitting is contagious, and the universal mantra certainly holds true for the two Iowa Staters. The two have hit home runs in either the same game or consecutive games numerous times throughout their Cyclone career. It is an anomaly that can only be explained by the confidence they generate from one another.

“We know that if 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, 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.

Adjusting to Iowa weather was one of the first struggles faced by both Torrescano and Miller, who were used to the year-round season and warm weather of California. In Iowa, high school teams play in the summer due to the colder spring temperatures. In California, high schools play their season in the spring with club teams playing in the summer and fall, due to the warmer climate.

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.”

The Bergstrom facility also has allowed the Cyclones to start their season at home since 2011, when the team began hosting the indoor Cyclone Invitational, before jet-setting around the country for outdoor tournaments until late March or early April.

This season, the Cyclones are on the road until April 5, when they play Oklahoma State on April 5 at the new Cyclone Sports Complex.

Next weekend Iowa State is on the west coast for the Fresno State Classic and set to play teams from California-Berkeley, San Diego State, Oregon, Oregon State and hosting Fresno State, March 7-9.

Game one of the weekend, against Fresno State, begins March 7 at 7 p.m. CST.

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