With former MU star gone, softball freshmen make their pitch to replace her

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | 7:38 p.m. CST; updated 8:25 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Freshman pitchers Casey Stangel and Tori Finucane are splitting pitching duties for the Missouri Tigers.

COLUMBIA — The reign of Chelsea Thomas is over — now just a list of accomplishments in the Missouri softball team's rearview.

  • First three-time First Team All-American in school history. 
  • The most wins of a pitcher in the Missouri softball program. 
  • Five Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week awards.

And that's just a small portion of Thomas' achievements as a Tiger.

But with Thomas having graduated and signed with the United States Specialty Sports Association Florida Pride, how could anyone live up to what she left behind?

Freshmen pitchers Casey Stangel and Tori Finucane will try to do it together. While they're still new to the program, it's not as if they lack confidence.

The duo walked into Devine Practice Facility on Wednesday while the rest of the team was conditioning. Missouri's pitchers aren't forced to participate in conditioning, so the two freshmen were in the locker room changing shoes for their own workout. Meantime, a team staff member send a text message to Stangel. You'd think a freshman would immediately respond, but Stangel isn't the type to kowtow.

"I don't use my phone during practice because I am completely focused on softball," she said with a hint of sarcasm to the staffer. She and Finucane laughed, ready to hear their orders.

Three days into practice, and these freshmen aren't timid about filling Thomas' shoes.

Both had talked to Thomas before and witnessed her pitching. They liked her. They liked her "chilled, down to earth attitude," Finucane said.

But they're different from the superstar that came before them.

"Neither one of them remind me of Chelsea in any way, shape or form," head coach Ehren Earleywine said. The two players have their own distinct personalities and can be themselves, which Earleywine thinks is important.

"Themselves" is nothing to be ashamed of. Brace yourself for their own lists of accomplishments.

Stangel was the 2013 National High School Softball Player of the Year for Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a three-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association High School All-America nominee and a three-time Gatorade Idaho Softball Player of the Year.

Finucane was a two-time NFCA First Team High School All-American at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va., and a two-time Gatorade Virginia Softball Player of the Year.

With those achievements, they both could've gone anywhere. But both chose Missouri, which sets up a platooning situation in which the left-handed, drop-ball-throwing Stangel will be the better option in certain matchups and the right-handed, rise-ball-throwing Finucane will pitch when the situation suits her. 

"For them to set aside any selfish ambition of being the only great pitcher at a university, which either one of them could've gone somewhere and been that kid," Earleywine said, "for them to set that aside, and come here and split time ... says a lot about both of those kids.

"I think of myself back when I was in college. I didn't like the other person in my position. I despised them."

Stangel and Finucane are "best buds," though, according to Earleywine.

"I'm Lewis, she's Clark," Stangel said, referring to the dormitories she and Finucane live in.

And they'll be exploring collegiate softball together.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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