By MANNY NAVARRO
At 6-4, 225 pounds and with a fastball that can top out at 94 miles per hour, Flanagan senior Jose Mesa Jr. often finds himself on another level when he faces high school hitters. And, that can get pretty boring.
The son of one of the greatest closers in major league history (his father ranks 14th all-time in saves), Mesa Jr. was back in domination mode Thursday night against visiting Douglas, giving up just two hits and striking out 12 over seven innings in a 6-1 victory over the Eagles in the Region 4-8A quarterfinals.
It was his fifth complete game of the season and raised his record to 9-1 while lowering his ERA to 1.03 on the year. The dozen strikeouts increased his season total to a Broward-best 127. He's also walked just 36 hitters in 74 2/3 innings.
With two no-hitters already in hand against district rival West Broward, Mesa Jr. will get the ball again next Tuesday when the Falcons (18-4) try to beat the Bobcats (19-4) next Tuesday in the regional semifinals for the fourth time this season.
The last time out, West Broward pushed Mesa Jr. hard, collecting 10 hits off him along with three earned runs. Flanagan emerged with a 4-3 win in 11 innings. But the 10 hits allowed, Mesa Jr. said Thursday, sserved as a wake up call for him.
"Not to say where team's haven't touched me, but I haven't faced adversity like I had in that game," said Mesa Jr., who suffered his only loss of the season to Venice in the Sarasota Baseball Classic on March 13th.
"I gave up 10 hits, but the good was I was still able to get back and hold them to just three runs. It was an eye opener for me to come back, to work hard and get ahead [in the count] the whole game."
Mesa Jr. did that Thursday, using a 88 to 90 mile per hour fastball according to scouts, and a slider to hold the Eagles to just two hits and an unearned run over the first three innings. After that, though, Flanagan coach Ray Evans said Mesa Jr. began to use his curveball and only got stronger. Mesa Jr. retired the final 14 hitters he faced -- 10 via the strikeout.
"He's probably right now, in talking to most of the scouts, he's definitely the best [pitcher] in Broward County," Evans said. "He's got four pitches and we don't even use one. There's no reason to use the changeup when he's throwing that hard. That's a pitch they could actually hit.
"I haven't seen a guy [grow] from his 10th grade year to his senior year like he has, the strides he's made. He's gotten to a point where he for the last couple weeks he was sort of stagnant. He was throwing and they weren't hitting him, but he wasn't getting better. But this game tonight proved a lot. He got stronger as the game went along, sharper with his breaking ball, sharper with his slider. He took command. I think he's one of the best, if not the best."
Mesa Jr. signed with Seminole State Community College in Ocala, but could potentially go straight the pros if the money is right.
Of course, he's not worried about that right now. He's just still trying to get better and saving his fourth pitch for when he really needs it.