Sports

Finnvold Etches Name Into Gators Lore with a Most Improbable Outing

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – He was relatively unknown a week ago except for the most informed of Gators baseball fans. But late Sunday night, the scattered fans who lasted at hot-and-humid Condron Ballpark chanted his name as they waited to see if he would reappear from the dugout for the bottom of the ninth inning.

Carsten, Carsten, Carsten.

The moment didn’t escape UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivandespite the tension of his team being three outs away from two wins in one day to keep its season alive.

‘You got some goosebumps when stuff like that is happening,’ ‘O’Sullivan said.

Once catcher Mac Guscette finished putting on his protective gear, freshman left-hander Carsten Finnvold emerged from the dugout and ran toward the mound.

An explosion of applause reverberated around the ballpark.

“I definitely have never experienced something like that in my life,” Finnvold said. “It was pretty hard to contain that smile in the ninth inning when I ran out. It was one of the best moments of my entire life. “

Finnvold then finished what he did not start, Florida’s 7-2 win over Oklahoma in the Gators’ second elimination game of the day in the Gainesville Regional. Finnvold retired Sooners center fielder Tanner Tredaway on a liner to short. After giving up a single to catcher Jimmy Crooks, he capped one of the most improbable pitching performances in program history by retiring Wallace Clark on a game-ending double-play grounder to third. The Gators face the Sooners again in a winner-take-all regional championship game on Monday afternoon.

As soon as the throw from UF second baseman Sterlin Thompson hit first baseman BT Riopelle’s glove, Finnvold pumped his fist and slammed his glove to the ground in front of the mound. After Finnvold’s nine-inning, 116-pitch relief outing, the Gators rushed to congratulate him.

By then, O’Sullivan wasn’t the only one with goosebumps. He had a plenty of company among those in the crowd that gave Finnvold a standing ovation. During his 15 seasons at Florida’s head coach, O’Sullivan has seen a lot, but he had never had a relief come in with nobody out in the top of the first and finish the game.

“I was just hoping he would limit the damage,” O’Sullivan said. “I haven’t really had a chance to digest it all. Any adjective I use to describe his outing is not going to do it justice.”

Rarely used in his first season at Florida, Finnvold is now known for turning in one of the most memorable postseason pitching performances in Gators history. A former American Heritage High standout from Boca Raton, Finnvold replaced starter Timmy Manning in the bottom of the first inning.

With the Gators playing their fourth game in three days and the second one on Sunday, O’Sullivan didn’t have many options. Manning faced three Sooners, hitting one and walking two to load the bases with nobody out. He turned to Finnvold, who, before starting the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game a week earlier, had not pitched since March 26.

Finnvold pitched solidly against the Walls in Florida’s 8-5 loss but had not pitched since that outing. He retired three Oklahoma hitters on popups to end the first inning, providing a much-needed lift early in the game.

Finnvold is not overpowering like most of Florida’s pitchers. He relies on a fastball that tops out around 85 mph and mixes in a changeup and curveball to keep hitters off-balance. He was superb against the Sooners, allowing five hits and two runs over nine innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.

“I knew I had to give a start, in reality, and not a short relief outing,” he said. “It really entered my head that I could finish the game around the sixth inning.”

Finnvold retired the first 16 batters he faced, not giving up a hit until Oklahoma shortstop Peyton Graham singled with one out in the top of the sixth. Graham’s single was the first of four consecutive for the Sooners, who got two runs home to tie the game 2-2.

The Gators regained the lead in the seventh on an RBI single by Riopelle, and after Jud Fabian’s second home run of the game stretched the lead to 4-2 in the eighth, the Gators broke the game open with three more runs before the inning was over.

Finnvold did the rest by retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced. Seventeen of the 27 outs Finnvold recorded were in the air.

“He certainly deserves every accolade he gets from this performance,” O’Sullivan said. “When you work and stay the course, opportunities like this may arise.”
 

Finnvold spent most of the season laboring over his craft on his own. He went a stretch of two months without appearing in a game. He didn’t travel with the Gators for most of the regular season after struggling in four relief outings early in the season.

His big break came when O’Sullivan informed Finnvold that he would be traveling to the SEC Tournament. The Gators made a surprise run to the championship game, and with limited pitching available, O’Sullivan turned to Finnvold to start against No. 1-ranked Tennessee in the championship game.

He pitched 4 2/3 innings, gave up four hits, four runs (none earned), walked three and struck out six.

“When I got the opportunity to pitch, I knew I had to make the best of it,” Finnvold said. “It’s pretty disheartening to watch a team play, and you’re not there to help them out. I grew up a lot in these last three months. “

He relied on his father, former Florida State and big-league pitcher Gar Finnvold, for pep talks and instruction during his time spent on the bench. Finnvold kept putting in the work if an opportunity arrived, such as Sunday night.

Others took notice.

“The way he worked all year to prepare for moments like these – it has to be said – because that’s what helped him,” Fabian said. “Not too many guys in college baseball throw 85-mph fastballs.

“He threw the game of his life.”

A relief pitcher going nine innings is rare in modern baseball.

According to research on Baseball-Reference.com via its Stathead search engine, the last major league pitcher to enter a game in relief and pitch at least nine innings was Neil Allen of the Yankees in 1988. After one batter, he relieved a young Al Leiter and tossed nine shutout innings against an Oakland lineup that featured Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire.

In an interesting case of coincidence, Max McGwire, the son of Mark McGwire, faced Finnvold on Sunday night. The game never fails to deliver surprises.

“It’s postseason baseball. Odd things happen,” O’Sullivan said. “Things you can’t explain.”

They may be inexplicable, but they stay alive long after the moment. If you were at Condron Ballpark on the first Sunday night of June, Finnvold’s outing won’t be forgotten.

Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson summed it up perfectly.

“This time of year is made for a hero,” Johnson said. “I hate to say it was fun to watch. He was incredible. “

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