Finigan does it all for SIU baseball

By Gus Bode

Senior among MVC leaders in hitting, fielding and pitching

Factoid:SIU plays at Bradley in a three-game series beginning today

SIU baseball head coach Dan Callahan wasn’t too happy with his lineup following the Salukis’ 6-2 victory Wednesday against Murray State.

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Only one Saluki managed more than one hit, senior P.J. Finigan, while many others weren’t taking their swings from practices to the games. After an impromptu meeting following the victory in which he told his team to take its at-bats more seriously, Callahan praised Finigan for his job at the plate all year.

“P.J. has been as consistent as anybody we have as far as his swing mechanics and doing what he’s doing in practice in the games,” Callahan said. “We’ve got to get more guys on board.”

Finigan, who was 3-for-4 Wednesday with an RBI, leads the team with a league fifth-best .360 batting average, .27 points higher than the next closest Saluki, cleanup hitter Grant Gerrard.

But when trying to assess Finigan’s value to this year’s Salukis (18-11, 4-2 Missouri Valley), you have to look past his hitting numbers. Way past.

While at shortstop, where he has been a mainstay since his freshman year, Finigan boasts a .965 fielding percentage. His 93 assists rank fourth in the Valley.

And on the mound, where he has doubled as a pitcher for the Salukis since his freshman year, Finigan has a team leading and league second-best 63 strikeouts to go with his 3-2 record in eight starts. Finigan struck out a career-high 17 batters during an early March game against Chicago State, earning him MVC and national player of the week honors.

“It was just one of those things where I had all of my pitches working, and I just kept getting into counts where I had a chance to strike a guy out,” Finigan said with a grin. “It just snowballed. The strikeouts kept coming.”

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Callahan doesn’t know which numbers are more impressive.

Or which are more helpful to his club.

Callahan just knows Finigan has been outstanding in the three facets of the game he is always talking about:hitting, pitching and fielding.

“As far as just swing mechanics and having some good at-bats, he’s been our most consistent hitter,” Callahan said. “He was one of the national player’s of the week with 17 strikeouts. You don’t see that every day in seven innings.

“And you know what, he didn’t have a hit Sunday [at Creighton], and he made two plays where we turned double plays that if ESPN would have been there, it would have been in the top 10 as far as baseball plays. That’s just something else he brings to the table. He didn’t pitch that day, he didn’t have a hit that day, and he makes two unbelievable plays that probably saved the game in a 3-1 ball game.”

Perhaps what is most impressive is the way Finigan has balanced all of his duties to perform at such a high level in each.

Doubling as an everyday player isn’t an entirely new concept in college baseball. It’s happened before, and it will surely happen again.

But to be among the league leaders in each aspect of the game can only be labeled as special. So how does he do it?

“They give me a lot of freedom during practice,” Finigan said. “I do what I can do pitching. I spend a little more time on fielding because I play three games a week there. Other than that, [pitching] coach [Bryan] Wolff takes time out of his schedule to work with me outside of things, and it’s really helped.”

Finigan’s forte has always been his fielding, but it is his pitching and hitting that have seen the most improvement this year. His 63 strikeouts on the mound are more than he had in his first three years combined (45), and he’s equaled his career win total already this season.

In the batter’s box, Finigan’s batting average is up .95 points from last season.

“Coach Henderson just said a couple things that clicked with me about my hitting,” Fingan said.

That sounds too easy, but then again, Finigan is making it all look easy this season.

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]

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