One of the most accomplished amateur baseball coaches in the nation, Matt Fincher is in his 21st season as the head coach of the USC Upstate baseball team.
Following his best season at the Division I level with a 33-20 overall record and 16-10 mark in the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2012, Fincher was voted as the A-Sun Coach of the Year, his first such award in 15 years as a head coach. The Spartans posted the third best batting average in the A-Sun at .287 and had the fewest strikeouts in the league. Fincher currently sits just 10 wins away from 400 career coaching victories.
The Spartans took A-Sun runner-up honors in their first year as full NCAA Division I members and nearly swept the league’s annual awards when Gaither Bumgardner joined his skipper in collecting the highest award from the conference office when he was named the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year.
With experience as an assistant coach in two of the most prestigious and toughest amateur baseball leagues in the world, the Collegiate Southeastern Conference and the summer amateur showcase Cape Cod League, Fincher seems poised to continue to lead Upstate to a successful future.
Fincher has spent the last decade-plus building the Spartans from a team that won 38 games in the three years prior to his hiring into a team that entered the Division I ranks in 2008 by finishing with a winning conference record for the first time since 1990. He has coached seven current professional baseball players (Matt Branham, Scott DeCecco, Gaither Bumgardner, Brandon Lee, Brody Greer, Chad Sobotka and David Roseboom) as Spartans. Along with former pro players Bradley Blanks, Eric Davis, Teddy Fallon, Chris Nowak, Bret Story and Brandon Williams, Fincher has helped six other Spartans reach their goal of playing professional baseball.
Fincher’s clubs proved a thorn in the side of many of the best baseball teams in Division II, beating 48 teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Magazine Top 30 with 20 wins against teams in the top 10. The Spartans even pulled off historic wins on March 23, 2003, when Upstate downed top-ranked Kennesaw State, 8-7, and on March 18, 2006 when Upstate beat top-ranked Georgia College & State University, 11-1. In all, the Spartans won at least one game against a team inside the top 25 in each of Fincher’s years with the program in Division II and won at least one game against a team ranked in the top 10 in their last five years of D-II play.
But that is just the beginning of Fincher’s story as a baseball coach. He is one of the most accomplished summer league coaches of the last 20 years. He has spent time in the Northeast Collegiate League, the Jayhawk League, the Alaska Central League and 10 seasons in the Cape Cod League. One of only two people to ever have their number retired by the legendary Chatham Anglers, Fincher spent a decade on the Cape, coaching future major leaguers such as Jason Bay, Ryan Braun, David Bush, Matt Cepicky, Luke Carlin, Chris Coghlan, Jamie D’Antona, David DeJesus, Ron Flores, Chris Getz, Adam Greenberg, Brad Halsey, Rich Hill, David Huff, Chris Ianetta, Joe Inglett, Matt Kata, Mike Koplove, Bobby Korecky, Tim Lahey, Chris Lambert, Todd Linden, Evan Longoria, Mike MacDougal, Mike McCoy, Marcus McBeth, Kevin Mench, Andrew Miller, Colt Morton, Ryan Mullins, Ross Ohlendorff, Chad Orvella, Bobby Parnell, Kevin Reese, Brian Roberts, Kyle Snider, Tim Stauffer, Matt White, Chris Young and Brad Ziegler.
Fincher continued his success at the helm of the Upstate baseball program in 2014, as the Spartans earned their first win over a school from the SEC since 2009 when Upstate upset 25th-ranked Kentucky in late February. The Spartans would go on to knock off 2014 NCAA Super Regional participant College of Charleston later in the season in non-conference action.
Fincher was instrumental during the 2013 in helping lead the Spartans to their most successful postseason showing in Division I history. Upstate captured its first A-Sun Championship win, knocked off nationally-ranked Mercer along the way and finished one win shy of the title game.
In 2011, the Spartans posted double-digit conference wins for just the second time in the D-I era. Upstate took two out of three from preseason A-Sun favorite, Florida Gulf Coast and pitched a shutout of then-No. 20 Stetson. Gaither Bumgardner and Scott DeCecco picked up A-Sun Pitcher of the Week honors during the season, while Blake Green earned First-Team All-Conference honors after finishing with a school-record 95 hits.
During the 2010 season, Fincher guided a young Spartans team that featured 11 freshmen to a two-win improvement over 2009, as Upstate tied for 10th in the A-Sun and won 19 games. Along the way, the team posted its first series win in school history over Kennesaw State and Matt Branham earned All-A-Sun honors as a pitcher. Branham also became the first player in school history to earn two conference Pitcher of the Week awards and Tyler Cook became the first player in school history to earn Academic All-District honors.
The Spartans, despite falling to 11th in the A-Sun in 2009, had plenty of bright spots, including a 1-0 win over SEC school Tennessee and a 4-3 win over Charlotte, the program’s first win over a Division I school receiving votes in a national poll. After the season, Austin Moyer earned A-Sun All-Freshman team honors and for the first time since 1988, two Spartans were drafted as pitchers Teddy Fallon (Pittsburgh) and Matt Branham (Houston) were selected in the MLB draft.
In 2008, Fincher led Upstate to its seventh straight 20-win season and added the school’s first winning conference campaign since 1990, all while getting the team adjusted to the rigors of Division I baseball and the Atlantic Sun Conference. Along the way, the Spartans continued to play the role of the spoiler, as they shocked A-Sun Tournament Champions Lipscomb with two come-from-behind wins and also shocked regular season A-Sun Champions Florida Gulf Coast by closing the season with two wins in a three-game set.
In the process, Fincher coached both an A-Sun All-Freshman Team member (Blake Green) and the school’s first All-A-Sun selection in second-team pitcher Kyle Bowley.
To close out the Division II era, Fincher coached three of the finest teams in program history, with the Spartans holding a national ranking at some point in each of its last three years in the Peach Belt Conference. A hitting guru, in three of the 12 seasons that Fincher has been head coach, the Spartans finished the season with a batting average better than .300.
Fincher led Upstate to three straight winning seasons and back-to-back appearances in the six-team Peach Belt Conference Tournament to close the Division II era. The Spartans finished the 2007 season with a 34-25 record and a 15-15 mark in the conference, finishing the season as the No. 4 seed heading into the PBC Tournament. The 15-15 league record was the best Peach Belt record in school history.
In 2006, the Spartans finished with a 33-24 record, the third time in the last four years the Spartans posted a winning record. USC Upstate advanced to the six-team Peach Belt Conference Tournament and was one of the final four teams left in the event before being eliminated on the next to last day. The Spartans also claimed their first NCAA regional ranking.
The 2005 Spartans finished with the program’s best record as a member of NCAA Division II. USC Upstate had a 33-21 overall record and a 14-16 mark in the legaue in the 2005 season as Matt Goyea won the conference batting title and Kyle Bowley was named the league’s Freshman of the Year.
In 2003, the Spartans finished with a 28-26 record, the first time since 1991 that the Spartans had a .500 or better record. It also marked the best record in the program since 1991. Fincher started Upstate’s resurgence in 2002, leading the team to 21 wins, the first of a school-record seven straight 20-win seasons.
Prior to taking the baseball coaching position at USC Upstate, he served one season as the interim baseball coach at Andrew College in Cuthbert, Ga.
From 1994 to 1996, Fincher served three years as an assistant coach under former University of Georgia baseball coach Steve Webber. In 1994 and 1995, Fincher served as a volunteer assistant coach. In 1996, he was promoted to top assistant and served as the team’s recruiting coordinator, hitting instructor, and coordinator of team travel. While at Georgia, Fincher earned his doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction in Physical Education.
During the summers of 1994 and 1995, Fincher coached the Athens (Ga.) Post 20 American Legion baseball team. The 1994 team won the state championship and advanced to the finals of the Southeast Regional before falling to eventual national champion Miami (Fla.) Post 346. The 1995 team finished second in the state tournament, losing in the state championship game in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Fincher began his coaching career at Eastern Illinois University, where he served as a graduate assistant coach with the baseball team and earned his M.S. in physical education. Following the completion of his master’s, he accepted a position at Georgia College & State University where he assisted John Kurtz for five years. While at GCSU, Fincher’s primary duties included hitting instruction, coaching catchers and outfielders, and field maintenance. He also taught in the physcial education department and coached cross country for one year.
In 1991-92, Fincher took a job on the grounds crew with the Atlanta Braves, working old Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium during two Braves’ runs to the World Series.
In summer baseball, he managed the Cortland (NY) Apples of the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League in 1986 and 1987, and in 1988 he managed the Nevada (Mo.) Griffons of the Jayhawk League. In 1989, Fincher returned to the Northeast Collegiate League where he managed the Syracuse (NY) Braves. The summer of 1990 saw Fincher assisting with the Kenai Peninsula Oilers in the Alaska Central Baseball League. While with the Oilers, Fincher coached former MLB All-Star Rich Aurilia.
From 1997 to 2006 Fincher served as an assistant coach for the legendary Chatham A’s in the Cape Cod Baseball League, who were featured in both the major motion picture “Summer Catch” and the season-long retrospective “Last Best League” by author Jim Collins. Over 10 summers, Fincher worked in a variety of roles which included coaching third base, field maintenance, and directing summer camps. During that time, the A’s won a league championship in 1998 and division championships in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. His No. 23 was retired by the Chatham Athletic Association on Aug. 5, 2006.
Fincher played two seasons for coach Kurtz at GCSU, serving as a reliable catcher on one of the best small college programs in the Southeast. He also played two seasons at Wofford College. After exhausting his eligibility, Fincher finished his degree at Georgia Southern, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in 1984.
Fincher resides in Moore.