The Gators found themselves in a very tough spot in the bottom of the first inning against Oklahoma on Sunday evening.
Sophomore southpaw Timmy Manning wasn’t able to recreate the special start that he turned in against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament last week. He hit the first batter of the game and then walked back-to-back hitters to load the bases with nobody out.
Facing a win-or-go-home situation, coach Kevin O’Sullivan made the early call to the bullpen and brought in Carsten Finnvold to face one of the hottest offenses in the country. Finnvold had pitched all of nine innings in five appearances this season at the time, and 4 2/3 of those innings came in his surprisingly good start against Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. He didn’t even make the travel roster for several SEC road trips.
O’Sullivan hoped that Finnvold could limit the Sooners to just a run or two in the first inning and then maybe toss a couple of more frames.
Little did he know that the soft-tossing freshman lefty was about to do something truly unforgettable.
Finnvold put up a zero on the scoreboard in the first by inducing two pop outs and a flyout.
Then he just kept piling up the outs. When all was said and done, he fired nine innings in relief. He gave up just five hits and two runs and didn’t issue a walk. He fired 116 pitches – or only 25 fewer pitches than he had thrown all season entering the night.
Though it won’t go into the history book as an official complete game because he wasn’t the starter, Finnvold became the first Gator to pitch nine innings in a game since Jack Leftwich threw a complete game in 2019 at Missouri.
Finnvold’s herculean effort sparked the Gators to a 7-2 victory over Oklahoma. The two teams will meet again on Monday at 1 in a winner-take-all regional championship game.
“I haven’t really had a chance to digest it all,” O’Sullivan said. “Any adjective I use to describe his outing is not going to do it justice. He’s got to come in in the first, bases loaded and nobody out. Got to rush him down to the ’pen, and he gets out of it. I was just hoping he could limit the damage, and the next thing you know, he goes nine complete. He gives up two runs. I really don’t know what to say at this point other than I’m really happy for him.
“The season has not gone the way he probably wanted it to, but he gave us a great effort against Tennessee. He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s tough. I think the message that I’m going to present to the team [on Monday] is when you work hard and you stay the course … that opportunities like this may arise. He deserves every accolade that he gets from this performance.”
Even Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson had to express his admiration for what Finnvold did after the game.
“This time of year is what is awesome about college baseball,” Johnson said. “This type of year is always made for a hero. No better opportunity for that young man on the other side. It was really, I hate to say it, but it was fun to watch. That guy did an outstanding job.
“His fastball-changeup mix kept us off balance and kept us out in front and got a lot of popups. That’s what guys like that do, and there is a place in baseball for young men like him. That’s what is awesome about baseball; you never know what is going to happen from day to day.”
In an era of baseball that seems to be all about throwing 100 miles per hour and making the ball dart all over the place, Finnvold is a bit of a throwback. His fastball tops out at around 85 miles per hour, and he features a big looping breaking ball that was clocked as low as 65 miles per hour on Sunday. His game is all about mixing speeds and locations. When he executes as well as he did against Oklahoma, he can be unhittable despite not being overpowering.
Offensively, Jud Fabian opened the scoring in the fourth when he lined a 1-2 fastball from Sooners starter Cade Horton onto the left-field berm.
An inning later, Jac Caglianone came through in the clutch with a two-out RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0.
It appeared that the Sooners (39-21) finally figured out how to hit Finnvold in the sixth. Four consecutive one-out hits – including RBI singles by Tanner Tredaway and Jimmy Crooks – tied the game at two and put Oklahoma in position to potentially take the lead.
Then catcher Mac Guscette made one of the biggest plays of the game. With runners on first and second and two outs, the Sooners attempted a double steal. Guscette threw a seed to second and gunned down Crooks for the final out.
“I knew I had to give a start, in reality, not a short relief,” Finnvold said. “I knew I had to start in order to really help my team win because, late in this regional, we don’t have a ton of pitching left. So, I knew I had to really help my team out and give them a lot of innings and eat innings, which is what I tried to do. It really entered my head that I could finish the game around the sixth inning once I stayed in after giving up two runs.”
The Gators (42-23) reclaimed the lead just a few minutes later. Sterlin Thompson (3-for-4) stroked a one-out double into the right-field corner off of Carson Atwood. On the very next pitch, BT Riopelle hit a sharp groundball back up the middle for a base hit that scored Thompson.
Florida blew the game open in the eighth. Fabian led off by lining another pitch just over the left-field wall for his 24th homer of the year off of Carter Campbell.
“[Finnvold] was fired up in the dugout every inning that he came in,” Fabian said. “It kept going to the hitters, and we fed off of that.”
Josh Rivera welcomed Ben Abram to the mound by hitting a high chopper toward the right side of the infield. The pitcher, first baseman and second baseman all went after the ball, which left first base vacant for Rivera to reach on an infield single.
With one out, Colby Halter hit a blooper that fell in front of the center fielder. Wyatt Langford loaded the bases by reaching on an infield single up the middle.
A passed ball scored one run, and Thompson brought home another with a deep sacrifice fly to center field. Riopelle made it 7-2 when he reached on a throwing error by shortstop Peyton Graham.
Meanwhile, Finnvold bounced back from the two-run inning in the sixth. He didn’t give up another hit until Crooks hit a line-drive single to right with one out in the ninth. He quickly erased that baserunner by getting Wallace Clark to ground into a game-ending double play.
There’s no telling where Finnvold’s career will go from here, but he’ll always have this memory to look back on. A crowd that didn’t even know his name a week ago chanted his name passionately throughout the final inning of the game and into the night.
“I definitely have never experienced something like that in my life,” Finnvold said. “It was pretty hard to contain that smile in the ninth inning when I ran out and they started chanting my name. I’ve really never experienced that in my life. So, it was definitely one of the best moments of my entire life.”