Ole Miss senior Brittany Finney sat behind a dais at Hillenbrand Stadium on Thursday feeling a little more comfortable than most players from visiting teams.
“It was weird coming back home,” said Finney, born in Tucson. “It’s been eight years since I’ve been here. And when I walked in, I was like ‘wow, I remember this place. I remember campus. I saw some things around town that I’ve seen before.”’
Now that Finney has had time to reminisce, her focus is on leading the Rebels past the Arizona Wildcats, a team she followed as a kid, in the Tucson Super Regional.
“It was a little eerie at first,” Finney said. “But I’m so ready for this.”
Finney’s hometown is actually listed as Wichita, Kansas because her stay in Tucson was a brief one. She resided in Southern Arizona for four years, before her parents separated and she moved to Kansas, where she had a decorated high school career.
Finney won two state championships at Bishop Carroll, going 14-1 with a 0.30 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 70 innings as a senior. She also hit .774 with 17 homers.
Finney was named the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and departed as the state’s all-time home runs leader.
At Ole Miss, she is most known for her pitching.
The right-hander enters the Tucson Super Regional with a 2.67 ERA in 141.2 innings, serving as the Rebels’ No. 2 pitcher. Finney has eight homers too, but is only hitting .198 in 151 at-bats.
“I think grit is probably one of her biggest characteristics,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith. “I mean, she’s a power pitcher. She has a Never Say Die attitude. She wants the ball all the time and I love her competitive nature. She doesn’t really care who’s up there, doesn’t matter the type of hitter, what they’re able to do. She’s just going to go after you. It’s almost kind of like ‘that’s my plate and I’m going to attack you’ and that’s the mentality that you want of any pitcher in the circle.”
Paired with junior ace Molly Jacobsen, a finesse pitcher who excels by changing speed and location, the Rebels have a formidable staff that has been a driving force behind their second-ever trip to Super Regionals.
The Rebels have a 2.18 team ERA, the fourth-best mark in the ultra-competitive SEC.
“They complement each other,” Smith said. “Molly frustrates hitters a lot, which is always a positive. Anytime you see a hitter with a frustration walking back to the dugout, or you see them bang their bat on the ground, you know that they’ve been beat.”
Ole Miss has never been to the Women’s College World Series, but Finney has. She won a national championship at Oklahoma in 2016, her lone season with the Sooners.
Finney has not tried to impart a championship mentality on her teammates. She said they already have one.
“I see a lot of the things that I saw in Oklahoma that year in this team,” she said. “That’s really inspiring and incredible and just awesome to just sit back and watch this team develop into a championship team.”
The Wildcats have never faced Finney, but they should have a good beat on her. Arizona pitching coach Taryne Mowatt tutored Finney for two seasons at Ole Miss before Mowatt left the Rebels after the 2017 campaign.
What will it be like for Finney to face Mowatt? The same way she feels about returning to Tucson.
“She’s a great coach. She’s incredible. She knows so much about the game, and she was able to help me develop into really a great pitcher. And so it’s a little bit different having to come in here and play against her,” Finney said.
“After she left, we were all heartbroken. She helped us a lot. And then Coach Ashley (Chastain) stepped in and took over and made me an even better pitcher. So, playing against Coach T is going to be a little different. It could be a disadvantage for us because she knows us. But we also know her, so it can go either way.”