COLUMBIA — Everyone notices Tori Finucane's pleasant demeanor.
They see the freshman pitcher's painted, sometimes chipped fingernails. They hear her charming laugh. They spot the cheetah-print bow she's been wearing to games recently because she's superstitious.
No. 3 Missouri's (41-15, 15-9) game against No. 6 LSU (34-21, 13-11) will air at 10 a.m. Thursday on ESPNU. If Missouri advances, its semifinal matchup will air at 2 p.m. Friday on ESPNU.
All games except the championship game will be televised on ESPNU. The championship game will be televised at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.
They get to know a student who wants to work with kids someday, a player who watched the then-No. 6 Alabama team dog pile on her field in celebration of its outright Southeastern Conference title and said, "It's fine."
"Tori's a little bit more reserved," Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said, "I guess sweet would be a good adjective to describe Tori."
But when she's in the circle, people notice a completely different side to Finucane.
After the reign of three-time First Team All-American pitcher Chelsea Thomas came to an end last season when she graduated, Finucane established herself as the Tigers' new ace and earned a 21-5 record. On the field, her laugh is replaced by deep breaths before each throw and stoic responses to each strikeout.
Her teammates notice.
"We're all very confident with, actually, all three of our pitchers," junior infielder Corrin Genovese said. "Tori's really keying up at the right part of the season."
Her coach sees it, too.
"She beat (Alabama No. 1 pitcher) Jackie Traina on opening night," Earleywine said after Finucane’s performance in the Tigers' 8-6 win in Game 1 against the Crimson Tide. "That’s a big deal no matter how you do it."
As Missouri heads into the SEC Tournament as a No. 3 seed set to play No. 6 LSU on Thursday, people outside the team have taken notice of Finucane’s competitiveness, too.
ESPN softball analyst Michele Smith, who will call Missouri's game against LSU, believes the Tigers' talented young pitching staff is one of their biggest assets. In recent games, such as Missouri's series against Alabama last weekend, she was impressed with Finucane's performance even though Missouri didn't defend or hit particularly well.
The league notices Finucane, and recently named her SEC Freshman of the Year to add to her two SEC Pitcher of the Week awards from earlier in the season.
At 11 years old, Finucane watched her older sister, Amanda Finucane, play shortstop and in the outfield, but Tori Finucane always thought pitching looked "kinda fun."
She's turned that "kinda fun" activity into a seasoned talent. Genovese, who's played with the pitcher since Finucane was in high school on the New Jersey Intensity travel team, can attest to that ability.
"I know as a freshman, everyone gets on you," Genovese said. "You see the bright lights … it might get to you a little bit, but I think Tori embraces that now and uses it as an opportunity to let everyone know, 'Hey, I'm a freshman, and I'm coming to win this game.'"
That talent made Finucane popular among college programs — some of the best teams in the nation, like the ones Missouri is set to face in the SEC Tournament — before she chose the Tigers.
"It's no big deal," Finucane said of facing those teams. "It's kind of cool."
And the idea of pitching multiple days in a row to help her team to victory?
"It'll be good experience," she said.
Don't let the quiet and sweet responses fool you.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.