Hometown: La Mirada, Calif.
The ace of the defending national champs is all but untouchable, with a 112-12 college record
As he watched his star player stare down the snapping shutter and popping lights during a photo shoot in a Phoenix studio, Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea pondered the irony of the scene. Wildcats senior pitcher Jennie Finch was posing with big league aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Diamondbacks for shots that would accompany a profile of her in the Diamondbacks' fan magazine, under the headline THE BEST PITCHER IN ARIZONA. During a break in shooting, Finch asked the two big leaguers for their auto- graphs. Says Candrea, "I wanted to say to them, 'You should be getting her autograph.' Jennie is the best pitcher in college Softball. She's talented, good-looking and very humble. She's the whole package."
Finch, 21, has established herself as not only the best at her position in the college game, but also as one of the finest softball pitchers in NCAA history. Between April 21, 2000, and April 7, 2002, the 6'1" righthander won an NCAA-record 60 straight games. Last year she went 32-0 and had a 0.54 ERA, capping the season with a 1-0 shutout of UCLA in the final of the College World Series. That ESPN-televised game gave the lanky blonde a measure of recognition usually reserved for members of the U.S. Olympic team.
"I don't really pay attention to numbers," Finch says. "That 60-0 is a team record; I couldn't do that by myself. Winning national championships is my goal." She and her teammates have a good chance to repeat in this year's college series, which begins with regionals on May 16-19 and concludes in Oklahoma City the following weekend. Finch is the centerpiece of an Arizona team that was 48-7 at week's end and ranked No. 2 in the country.
Pitching most of her games in the murderous Pac-10, which has seven teams ranked in the top 16, Finch has been nearly as dominant (29-2, 0.78 ERA) as she was last year. Her control has been phenomenal—293 strikeouts and 56 walks in 206? innings. "You can't get behind in the count against her," says Cal coach Diane Ninemire, whose Bears are one of the two teams to beat Finch this season. "She has such a variety of pitches, and her ball breaks very late. Her mechanics are terrific."
Finch's repertoire—rise ball, drop, curve, screwball and changeup—is made more effective by her velocity (usually in the high 60s) and her imposing size (a pitching stride of more than 6� feet). "Her height makes a huge difference," says Stanford coach John Rittman. "She's only 43 feet away, and the ball gets there so much quicker. She's an explosive pitcher."
As a teen Finch honed her talents in the ultracompetitive fast-pitch leagues of Southern California. From her home in the L.A. suburb of La Mirada she traveled on weekends with her parents, Doug and Beverly, in an orange 1979 Ford van. On Sunday mornings, with Jennie in full uniform, they often stopped for drive-in services at the New Life Community Church in Artesia, parking outside the building and listening to the sermon on the radio. At times during the summer the van carried them across the country. "Our family vacations weren't to Hawaii," Jennie says. "They were to the softball fields of Oklahoma, Ohio and Tennessee."
At Arizona, where softball frequently outdraws the Wildcats' baseball games, she's become a celebrity. She's dating Casey Daigle, a pitcher for the Diamondbacks' Class A affiliate in Lancaster, Calif., and several Diamondbacks players have shown up to see her pitch, including slugger Luis Gonzalez. "She was impressive—Randy Johnsonesque," Gonzalez says. "It's the equivalent of throwing 90 to 100 mph in baseball. She dominated."
Finch shrugs off the attention and remains committed to the principles that made her near unbeatable. "The love of winning and the hatred of losing are what motivate me," she says. "I just like to throw."