How do you replace Chelsea Thomas?
The softball season is only a few weeks old, coach Ehren Earleywine and his players have already heard the question: How do you fill the shoes of a four-time All-American?
But to freshman Tori Finucane, it doesn’t really matter.
The 5-foot-7 right-handed pitcher from Germantown, Md., arrived in Columbia as one of the nation’s most highly touted high school players bearing the burden of replacing one of the greatest athletes in school history, but she hasn’t really given the subject much thought.
“I don’t think she thinks about it,” Earleywine said. “I think when you’re 18 years old, going to Mizzou and having a good time … I don’t think they walk around campus thinking about Chelsea Thomas.”
Coach and player seem to be on the same page.
The freshman hasn’t given the subject of replacing Thomas much thought, and she credits her success to her teammates.
“I think just knowing that my team has my back,” Finucane said. “They’ve done a really good job informing me of what to expect, and I think the more time on the field and the more innings I get, I’ll be able to make adjustments and start to work through things I need to. It’s a great learning experience.”
It’s paid off pretty well so far. Finucane is 7-3 with a 2.32 ERA and 50 strikeouts this season.
“Tori’s a great pitcher; we all know that,” sophomore catcher Carlie Rose said. “She’s had a great mentality. She’s had to come behind Chelsea Thomas, and that’s not an easy thing to do. She’s handled it well.”
Finucane, whose arsenal consists mainly of a rise ball, drop ball and changeup, has worried more about the success Thomas brought to the win column than what she did in the circle.
“We just kind of want to continue the success she brought to this school,” Finucane said. “We’re not trying to be Chelsea; we’re just trying to do our own thing.”
Finucane has shined early on for the Tigers, especially in big games, striking out eight in a shutout win over Arizona and fanning seven and only giving up three hits in the conference opener against Texas A&M.
“There are some nights where her velocity is all she needs,” Earleywine said. “Against A&M, velocity was all she needed, but there are times where the location and the swing-and-miss is missing. I have to continually remind myself that she’s a freshman.”
Coaches often mention the “freshmen wall” when discussing their newest players. The freshmen wall is a term that describes how some freshman athletes get off to great starts early in the season, but with increased competition, and the player’s production is lowered.
Despite the success Finucane’s had early on, Earleywine doesn’t worry about her hitting the wall. He doesn’t see her even coming close.
“I don’t her hitting a wall,” Earleywine said. “She’s pitched a couple big games. One of them was Arizona and the other one was A&M, and you would’ve thought she was pitching batting practice. She’s unfazed. It’s remarkable. I don’t see her going backward.”