When Tori Reuscher had to face the unexpected death of her biggest supporter, she leaned on her 20 new family members to get her through her darkest days.
Now, she’s flourishing and even exceeding her own expectations.
Reuscher, a Cheltenham native and sophomore pitcher for the Holy Family University softball team, is having the season of a lifetime, but it certainly did not come easy.
A 2010 graduate of Little Flower High School, Reuscher is no stranger to athletic success. During her sophomore season, she was named honorable mention All-Catholic League; as a junior, she participated in the Carpenter Cup All-Star Classic; and as a senior earned All-Catholic second-team honors.
However, she was behind a long line of dominant Little Flower pitchers and had to wait her turn to shine in the pitching circle. She didn’t see consistent action as the team’s top starting pitcher until her senior year, and as a result was not recruited by any college programs.
As a fallback option, Reuscher chose a local school that boasted a strong program in her desired field of nursing, and thought she’d roll the dice and try to walk onto the Holy Family softball team, a Division II member of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). The entire process of earning a walk-on spot was a major challenge in and of itself.
“Personally, I wish I got to sign a national letter of intent, because it was always a dream of mine to get to commit to a college softball program,” she said before a Friday afternoon practice on Holy Family’s campus. “When I ended up at Holy Family, I knew I’d have to fight even harder to make their team. Problem was, when I got here they didn’t have a coach, so I was sort of stuck in limbo not knowing if I’d get to play again.”
Holy Family hired Davon Ortega as the school’s fifth softball coach in June 2010, and it was right around that time that an e-mail Reuscher had sent to members of the athletic department expressing her interest to play found its way into the new coach’s inbox. After a three-day tryout period, Ortega gave Reuscher the good news that her dream of playing college softball had just become a reality.
However, things only got more difficult from there.
As a freshman walk-on, Reuscher did not see much action, and the time she did get did not treat her very well. She managed only one hit in 10 at-bats on offense and compiled a 1-4 record to go with a 5.21 earned run average in 17 pitching appearances (including six starts).
Reuscher entered the off-season determined to work even harder to prove that the disappointment of her freshman season was an aberration, and a strong summer of training had her well on her way to bouncing back. That was when tragedy struck.
Reuscher’s father passed away unexpectedly in September, turning her world upside down. All of a sudden, she had lost her first-ever softball coach, as well as her closest confidant and supporter.
“He was such a big part of my life, and he really helped me realize a lot of my dreams,” she said, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. “He let me choose my own path. He pushed me so hard, but at the same time he was my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be this person that I am today without his influence on my life.”
With her father gone, Reuscher counted on the love and support from her Holy Family coaches and teammates to get through such a heart-wrenching time.
When she posted news of her father’s death on Facebook, Reuscher said her new family sprung to her side without hesitation. At least a half-dozen of her teammates showed up at her house to help see her through the pain.
“To have eighteen other girls and two coaches be there for me like they were was the best thing in the world,” Reuscher said. “They are the prime example of teammates — anything I needed, they were there for me.”
As crushed as she was following her father’s death, Reuscher channeled her frustration and sadness and let it all loose on the field. The subsequent results have been eye-popping.
In 20 appearances (17 starts) so far this season, Reuscher has pitched to an 8-7 record with a microscopic 1.47 earned run average, a mark that currently places her in the top 50 of all Division II softball players.
In addition to wins and ERA, she leads the Tigers in innings pitched (104.2), complete games (13) and shutouts (four). Her efforts have helped Holy Family to a 15-15 record thus far this season after the team won just 13 games in 2011.
Holy Family also boasts an 8-6 mark in the CACC, which is currently good enough for fifth in the conference (the Tigers were picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll).
And just for good measure, Reuscher fired her first ever no-hitter on March 17 in the CACC opener over Nyack College.
SHARING THE CREDIT
“I’m still in shock, and all of this stuff still doesn’t seem real to me,” she said. “I can’t ask for a better group of girls to experience this success with, and I can’t put into words what Coach Ortega taking a chance on me means to me. She saw what I was capable of and stuck with me … she has as much to do with my success as I do.”
Predictably, Ortega was quick to deflect praise back toward her star pitcher.
“She worked really hard to get into our rotation this season, and with her dad passing away, she’s worked even harder to become my top pitcher,” Ortega said. “It’s amazing how she’s bounced back, and I know that every time she pitches, she feels closer to her father. She is just an incredible, incredible person, and I’ve been touched by her work ethic, commitment and personality.”
For her part, Reuscher is just living in the moment and relishing every opportunity to stand out on the softball diamond again, something that two years ago seemed like an impossible fantasy.
And although her father is no longer here in person to witness her success, Reuscher knows he’s out there somewhere, watching down on her every time she takes the field.
“He was at every one of my games, and coached me through all of my ups and downs,” she said. “And even though he’s gone, I still ask for his help out there. When things get rough, I ask for his guidance, and anytime I get a strikeout or we turn a big double play, I thank him, because I wouldn’t be where I am right now if not for his love and support.” ••EndFragment