OMAHA, Neb. – As soon as he touched home plate, he knew where he needed to go.
J.C. Flowers high-fived a few teammates in the dugout after scoring the go-ahead run for Florida State, tossed his helmet and bat into the rack, then took off toward the bullpen.
1-0 leads are the oxygen that fuel closers.
Flowers was determined to stamp his name into College World Series history. It was a unique moment no doubt, as Flowers has hit and closed for the Seminoles this season, but not in any situation like the one he was facing.
“I can’t recall having had to do that,” Flowers said laughing as he reminisced on the long run from the dugout to the bullpen mid-inning. “But I warmed up as quickly as I could and was ready.”
He sprinted across right field to the bullpen beyond the wall, underneath a stretch of bleachers packed with heckling Razorback fans. He hastily tossed a few warmup pitches as Cooper Swanson battled a full-count at-bat to buy as much time as he could for his stopper.
Flowers came in to the game looking to preserve Drew Parrish’s gem of an outing, the task was daunting.
Flowers retired the side in order against Arkansas’s 4-5-6 hitters, all hitting over .300 in 2019 and with 40 home runs between them. He touched 95 miles per hour in the inning while flashing a devastating slider, using it to strike out Jack Kenley to end the game and propel the Seminoles into a meeting with Michigan in winners’ bracket on Monday night.
Flowers reveled in the moment, especially at what his fellow junior teammate, Parrish, was able to do before giving way to him.
“He was amazing, we’ve been at it together since our freshmen year and I’ve known all along what he’s capable of doing,” Flowers said. “He showed it tonight, keeping them off balance all game.”
Flowers, a fourth-round MLB Draft pick of the Pirates, picked up his 13th save of the season, the most by a Seminole since Billy Strode in 2015. He is the first player in College World Series history to score a go-ahead run and then earn a save.
“It’s always great to get the first win, especially against a great team,” Flowers said. “We know we have more work to do on Monday night.”
Seminoles confident in Van Eyk against Wolverines: Monday night presents a new opportunity for Florida State in Omaha. One more victory, and the Seminoles are in the driver’s seat to advance to the championship series for the first time since it moved to a best-of-three format in 2003.
They’ll turn to their hard-throwing right-hander CJ Van Eyk on the hill to get the job done. Over the past two months, no Seminole starter has been more consistent than the Lutz, Fla., native.
Van Eyk is 7-0 in his last 10 starts and pitched like a staff ace as the Noles battled their way into the last remaining spots of the NCAA Tournament and all the way back to Omaha.
It’s been a learning curve for the sophomore, who had to tap into his potential to reach his full ability. His freshman campaign and much of his second season at FSU showed glimpses, yet an arsenal that needed refinement.
“Sometimes last year he would throw the ball 95, 96 miles per hour, but it would be ball one and all of a sudden he’ll get an attitude and throw the next one a little harder and it’s ball two,” FSU coach Mike Martin said.
“He learned how to pitch, trying to hit his spots. He’s throwing at 96 miles per hour, but he’s not over-throwing like he did last year.”
There was the start at Louisville and the masterpiece against NC State in the ACC Tournament, two wins that undoubtedly catapulted FSU into the Field of 64 on Selection Monday.
Then came the stifling of the No. 4 team in the country in Athens, Ga., as Van Eyk overwhelmed Georgia at Foley Field. Baton Rouge was a similarly impressive outing against nearly 12,000 fans and an LSU team peaking at the right time of the year. The sophomore’s fastball flashed 98 MPH in that game, a tool that will have him as one of the most coveted arms in the professional ranks. However, the curveball was sharp with tight spin and the changeup flashed improved command.
It’s allowed Van Eyk to take his game to the next level.
“His breaking ball has gotten much more consistent, Martin said. “I’ve noticed that Mike (Martin Jr.) and Clyde Keller are starting to call more changeups with him because that really gives him three very good pitches.”
On the game’s biggest stage, Van Eyk will again have the curtain’s raised to display his evolution as a refined pitcher.
Another strong outing and he’ll have his team in the driver’s seat of the CWS, quicker than any of his fastballs.