TUSCOLA — Softball runs in Kaitlyn Reifsteck’s blood.
Her mother, Jennifer, used to play at Villa Grove High School.
“She definitely pushed me to keep playing and do my best,” the younger Reifsteck said.
Would it be fair to suggest Reifsteck is following in her mom’s footsteps, then?
“If she took it more seriously back then,” Reifsteck said.
That’s not a knock on Mrs. Reifsteck.
Kaitlyn Reifsteck simply has taken her game to a different level.
The Tuscola senior showed that last Saturday when she racked up 30 strikeouts across 13 innings during victories against North Central (Ind.) and Arcola at Ervin Park.
Reifsteck also permitted just four hits, hurling a one-hitter for the Warriors (3-0) versus the Purple Riders and finishing with two complete games last weekend.
“I was really amped up,” said Reifsteck, an Eastern Illinois softball signee. “After I got my first inning under my belt, I was rolling from there.”
Incredibly, there’s precedent for Reifsteck to put forth such an effort.
During a March tournament with the Mattoon Pride travel team, Reifsteck said she notched 39 strikeouts across three games in one day.
It’s a benefit of the softball pitching style that isn’t emulated in baseball — because of the underhand throwing motion, Reifsteck and others can log more innings.
And strikeouts, if they’re good enough.
“I wasn’t sore or anything,” Reifsteck said of how she felt after last Saturday’s doubleheader. “It feels good to be the ace on the team, for sure.”
So how did Reifsteck, a 2019 News-Gazette All-Area second-team selection as a sophomore, get to this point?
Family is a big reason. Not just that her mom played softball, but that Jennifer and Tim Reifsteck, Kaitlyn’s father, are heavily committed to their daughter’s athletic ventures.
The Reifstecks boast a shed outside their home in which Kaitlyn and her dad regularly work out. That proved especially important early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when such opportunities weren’t as easy to find in other places.
“I constantly lift (weights), five days a week. Me and my dad pitch between three and four times a week,” Reifsteck said. “It does get tiring practicing. But it’s paid off so much, and it’s been worth it — totally worth it.
“They’ve been the best support system I could ask for, and they always push me.”
Reifsteck also has surrounded herself with other helpful adults.
Tuscola coach Lenny Sementi has overseen one of the area’s most consistently successful softball teams since 2001. Reifsteck said former Warriors assistant coach Stephanie Goodwin, who was with the program during Reifsteck’s freshman year, proved important in helping Reifsteck with arm speed and pitch movement.
And then there’s Denny Throneburg. A six-time IHSA state-champion coach at Casey-Westfield in the 1980s and 1990s, Throneburg has mentored numerous athletes through the years in east central Illinois. Reifsteck is among them, starting her work with Throneburg around Reifsteck’s fifth-grade year. Throneburg, the former Lake Land athletic director and softball coach, said he knew immediately that Reifsteck could be successful in the circle for two main reasons.
“One, her work ethic is exceptional,” Throneburg said. “And the other thing is ... she could always spin the ball.”
Reifsteck said she utilizes four pitches: a fastball, changeup, riseball and curveball.
“I use my movement pitches a lot,” Reifsteck said. “Those are what get me swings and misses.”
“She is comfortable with spinning four pitches, and that obviously will make her better,” Throneburg added. “If a kid throws really hard but only throws a fastball ... it’s going to get hit. She has an extremely high softball IQ, and in pitching, that is important.”
Throneburg added that Reifsteck’s maturity and willingness to be taught also separate her from many other pitchers he’s worked with.
And he wasn’t surprised when told that Reifsteck recently sent 30 batters down either looking or swinging at a third strike.
“Not really,” Throneburg said. “Obviously that’s a great accomplishment. We never want to take great pitching performances for granted.
“We’ve had numerous conversations between her mom, her dad, herself and me as to where we thought she could go. I just think Eastern is a great fit for her, and I’m really happy that’s where she’s going.”
Reifsteck carries an equally glowing review of Throneburg as a coach in helping out her pitching performances.
“He’s built me from the ground up,” Reifsteck said.
Reifsteck plans to continue grinding away in the family shed with her father once the Warriors’ 2021 season comes to an end, hoping to secure a starting pitching role as an Eastern Illinois freshman. Before that time comes, there’s the matter of helping Tuscola to some IHSA hardware. The Warriors own a Class 2A regional championship in Reifsteck’s tenure — earned during her freshman season — but are trying to make up for lost time after last year’s season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re so excited to be able to have something to work toward,” Reifsteck said. “And I hope and believe we can go far in this postseason.”