Good Counsel pitcher Tori Finucane is latest to prove talent trumps youth in softball

Good Counsel's Tori Finucane has allowed just two runs thus far during her spectacular freshman season.
Good Counsel's Tori Finucane has allowed just two runs thus far during her spectacular freshman season. (James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
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By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010

The plaudits come from virtually everyone who has seen Tori Finucane pitch. Enough college softball recruiters have already informally offered scholarships to Good Counsel's freshman pitcher that her father said she could choose a school today if she felt so inclined. Casual observers marvel how a girl who just turned 15 years old can fire pitches at 65 mph from just 40 feet from home plate.

Finucane is the latest area freshman pitcher to dominate from her debut. While pitchers of Finucane's ilk certainly are not common, historically they have asserted themselves immediately, unlike standouts in other sports such as basketball, soccer or lacrosse, who typically emerge later as they get taller or stronger. And while cross-country runners' times tend to decline as their bodies develop as upperclassmen, the top softball pitchers show a distinctive ability to sustain their dominance throughout their high school careers.

"The ones that have dominated early have just continued on through their careers," said Huntingtown's Mike Johnson, who has coached for 23 seasons and won seven state titles. "That's a unique factor that our sport has over all others."

Why elite softball pitchers seem to be immune to both literal and figurative growing pains is a mystery to several high school, college and private softball coaches. Many had never even noticed the trend, yet they later acknowledged, after considering the brilliant high school careers of such local players as Northern's Kelly Shipman (1992-95), O'Connell's Lesley Palmer (1997-2000), Broad Run's Christy Anch (1999-2002), Park View's Karie Morrison (2000-03), Calvert's Megan Elliott (2003-06) and Severna Park's Kaila Jenkins (2003-06), among others, that, even over time, opponents could not solve top pitchers.

"I see [Finucane] in that same mold," said longtime O'Connell Coach Tommy Orndorff, whose team has scored one of only two runs Finucane has allowed this season in a 1-0, nine-inning victory on March 19 and gets another shot at her Monday. "She has those same qualities."

The fact that perhaps no position in all of high school sports can dictate success (or failure) more than a softball pitcher makes it even more confounding that a freshman could master it.

"There's no position in sports," said Orndorff, who also runs the Shamrocks travel team program, for which Finucane played last summer on its 14-and-under team, "that demands more of a person than a pitcher in fast-pitch softball."

As youth sports opportunities have multiplied over the past two decades -- particularly for girls -- players take the field at an increasingly younger age. While softball is no different in that respect from other team sports such as basketball, soccer or lacrosse, softball pitchers have an advantage over players at every other position in any other team sport: They're directly involved in every single play.

Further, unlike baseball, for which rest is paramount both for the pitcher's health and development, softball pitchers often throw multiple games in a single day because the underhand windmill delivery is the natural motion of the shoulder.

"It comes back to the idea of the windmill pitch and that it's less damaging to the arm," said Suzanne Konz, a clinical assistant professor and athletic trainer at Oklahoma State, who is studying the workloads of college pitchers. "The belief is that they can sustain longer loads."

Finucane recalled a tournament last summer where her team played 10 games in a weekend and she pitched seven of them.

"It gives you a lot of chances to work on your mistakes," she said. "If a riseball didn't spin the right way, I can realize that I've got to get under the ball more, and then I have more chances to try it."

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