Southern ace righthander Eli Finney will start the season on the shelf because of an injury, Jaguars coach Kerrick Jackson said at Tuesday’s media day press conference.
Finney, who went 6-3 with a 5.22 earned run average during Southern’s 2019 Southwest Athletic Conference championship season, is undergoing rehab for tendonitis in his pitching shoulder. One of his victories was against LSU when he allowed one hit and one run through seven innings.
Jackson did not lay out a timetable for Finney’s return, but the pitcher was optimistic.
“I’d like to be back as soon as possible,” Finney said. “I’m going through therapy and trying to strengthen it up as much as I can. It’s coach’s decision when I come back. I keep asking (pitching) coach (Christopher) Crenshaw to ‘let me throw today, let me throw today.’ I don’t think it’s too serious.”
Southern opens its 71st baseball season 6:30 p.m. Friday at UNO. The Jaguars will play Alcorn State at 1 p.m. Saturday, Alabama State at noon Sunday and Grambling State at 3 p.m. Sunday. The latter three games will be at Wesley Barrow Field in New Orleans.
Southern coach Kerrick Jackson said he’s being cautious with Finney’s injury, especially because the team has good depth with six pitchers vying for starting jobs.
“We’re going to take our time,” Jackson said. “The goal is (to win in) May, not February. He pitched well in the fall but had some tightness in the shoulder. We’re strengthening that shoulder capsule up, the fine muscles in the shoulder. We’re making sure he’s as strong as he can be. I think we’ll be able to hold serve until he’s ready to go.”
Finney was the only Southern player named to preseason All-SWAC baseball team, first or second team. Southern was chosen as the favorite to win the league West Division title despite returning only one position starter.
Jackson named his starting pitchers for this weekend’s season-opening series. Junior righthander Anthony Findanza will start at UNO; senior righthander Wilhelm Allen will start against Alcorn State; senior lefthander Jerome Bohannon will start against Alabama State and junior lefthander Darren Smith gets Grambling.
Centerfielder Hampton Hudson, the only returning starter among position players, switched his uniform number from 24 to 3 to try and start a tradition of Southern players wearing it. Jayvean Williams wore the number last season, outfield coach T.J. Perkins suggested the switch because Williams was leaving.
Hampton considered it and called Williams.
“He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and do it, you’re my little bro, my son’,” Hudson said. “We decided to establish passing this number down. Slowly but surely I hope it will become a tradition of passing it down to the player who has the idea of how to play this game and how to be a Southern Jaguar.”
Southern isn’t dodging anybody. The Jaguars have a difficult non-conference schedule with the hope the competition will help a young squad with 21 new players, eight of them freshmen, raise its level of play for the postseason.
Besides their annual visit to LSU on Feb. 18, the Jaguars play two games at Texas Tech on Feb. 25-26, three games with Tulane on March 6-8, a game at Southern Mississippi on March 25, a three-game series at Missouri State on April 9-11 and a game at Mississippi State May 5.
“A bunch of my friends in the game looked at my non-conference schedule and said, ‘What the heck are you doing?’” Jackson said. “I want to play the most competitive non-conference schedule we can play. I want them to understand what it means to be in those types of environments. Those are the games we have to be competitive in to reach our ultimate goal, which is to get to Omaha.”