SPOTLIGHT: This lefty is all right

NEVER LOSE FOCUS: At one time the biggest player on the First Baptist Shreveport Patriots machine pitch team, Jonathan Fincher has become a bigger reason for Tech’s baseball success.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

He’s studying to be a surgeon, so Louisiana Tech scholar-athlete Jonathan Fincher will be in a life-or-death situation or two one day.

Baseball’s far from that. Even though, sometimes …

“In that moment of competition,” said Louisiana Tech’s junior lefthander, a nervous smile on his face, “it sure feels like life and death.”

Like for instance a couple of Sundays ago at Old Dominion when Fincher left the mound with two on and one out, in the deciding game of a three-game series, and his buddy Landon Tomkins came in and got a 6-4-3 double play on a 2-1 pitch to end the threat in a game Tech would win, 8-4, to move into second place in the Conference USA race. Biggest play of the game.

“I jumped about 18 feet high,” Fincher said, now all smiles in the players’ lounge of the Love Shack before a practice for this weekend’s crucial three-game set in Ruston against Western Kentucky. “I’m a big guy (6-3, 240), so 18 feet, that’s pretty high.”

Baseball life.

And then there’s baseball death, like Tech dropping two of three last weekend at home against Florida Atlantic to fall into a tie for third, a game behind UTSA, three behind league-leading Southern Miss, a team that took 2 of 3 from the visiting Bulldogs at the start of April.

And there’s Fincher, who, if you didn’t know him, might have been figured for life support a month ago.

Last spring he was first-team All C-USA. Led the Bulldog staff in strikeouts (85, walked only 23), innings pitched (100.1) and lowest opposing batting average against him (.219). Finished 8-3 for the West Division champs on a 42-20 Tech team that hosted an NCAA Regional, a first in program history.

But last month, Fincher found himself in the bullpen. His fastball wasn’t Fincher-fast and was finding too much of the plate, and his home runs allowed count was suspiciously high (six last year, nine in a little more than half as many innings this spring).

Teammate, close friend and lefty Cade Gibson was “putting together better innings,” Fincher said. The two swapped spots. Fincher’s heart didn’t even skip a beat.

“It was the logical move,” Fincher said. “Whatever the team needs. That’s the same attitude I’ve always had.”

He and pitching coach Cooper Fouts fixed a couple of mechanical things that have allowed him better command, and he’s gotten some velocity back by cutting his between-appearances workload.

Could be what the doctor ordered. If it’s not, it won’t be from lack of confidence or preparation. He’s book smart — Thursday he and teammate and Byrd High bestie Steele Netterville were named 2021-22 Baseball First Team Academic All-District — but he’s baseball smart too.

“Being able to deal with the pressure a situation puts on you,” he said, “whether it’s trying to save a person’s life or get a ground ball to second base … I think that’s the main thing baseball teaches you in life, to build that confidence in yourself to perform whatever task you’re trying to do at that point and time.

“Move on, pitch-to-pitch. Execute your plan. Lock in. Keep attacking.”

Those calling cards of focus and attack are the same reasons he feels no one should sleep on this year’s Bulldogs (33-17, 15-9), scheduled to play at 6 tonight, 2 Saturday (Senior Day) and 1 Sunday against WKU (17-30, 7-17).

“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been through the tornado and playing without a stadium and dealing with COVID,” Fincher said, “a bunch of grinders who go to work and don’t really care what the outside has to say about what the team is doing at that moment. We’re going to lock shields and rely on each other.

“We’ve got a great core group,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to the park every day, just to hang out. At this point, if you’re not having fun, you’re probably in the wrong place.”

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech

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