By Nate Thompson

NORTON SHORES – The way Mona Shores baseball coach Brandon Bard sees it, his team is far better off having a 75 percent  healthy Austin Flowers, then no Flowers at all.

And that’s has certainly turned out to be the case this season.

At the start of winter conditioning, Bard feared he might have lost Flowers for the 2018 season. The senior’s normally powerful right arm didn’t have the same zip as it had in the past, when he pitched in the Sailors’ rotation and played shortstop.

“I injured it against one of those Wing-T teams (in football) and it was the type of thing where it was hurting after practices and games, but I just thought it was a little injury to my shoulder, and it would eventually go away,” Flowers said. “But then when we started training for baseball, I just couldn’t throw, and I knew something was wrong.”

Austin Flowers rounds third base during a Mona Shores game against rival Reeths-Puffer. Photo/Jason Goorman

Flowers’ first examination produced a doom and gloom prognosis. He was told that he had torn the labrum in his shoulder, and it would be best if he avoided adding stress to the injury by playing baseball.

But a second doctor’s opinion provided Flowers with new hope. That meant a lot to him, considering his junior baseball season was cut short with two weeks remaining when he broke his hand sliding back into first base.

“They basically told him that the injury was near the back of his shoulder, and he couldn’t make it any worse going through another season,” Bard said.

Flowers said he endured a couple months of physical therapy to strengthen his deltoid muscles in his shoulder, and continues rehabbing on his own at school and home.

Even though Flowers was given a green light to play, and has regained his throwing velocity, Bard decided to take the safe route. He removed him from the pitching staff, and moved him from shortstop to second base, to shorten his throws to first.

Flowers has thrived in his new role. Despite a slow start at the plate, he has a batting average over .400 and more than 20 stolen bases on the season.

Mona Shores’ second baseman Austin Flowers looks to see if the throw was in time. Photo/Jason Goorman

Bard has remained cautious about Flowers’ injury. He checks to see if he’s dealing with any pain on a daily basis, much to Flowers’ chagrin.

“I ask him every day if he’s hurting or if he feels like he’s got any limitations, and he always says he’s OK,” Bard said. “I think he gets annoyed with it. It’s starting to become a running joke between us now. I think we both know that it’s going to take a lot more for him to sit out.”

Flowers said if he throws quite a bit throughout the day, he’ll feel some ache that night, but it’s not enough to keep him out of the lineup.

“It’s my senior year, so I’m going to play,” said Flowers, who has received an offer to play baseball at Aquinas College.

Flowers’ tolerance of pain has helped him earn a spot in the school record books in a unique category – being hit by pitches. He recently was pegged for the 15th and 16th times this season during a doubleheader.

“If I see one coming at me, I’ll just lean in and take it,” he said. “To me, it’s a free base and it only stings for a little bit. It’s worth it. Anything to help the team win.”

Flowers and the Sailors have been winning a lot this season. They currently have a 21-8 overall record and a 12-4 mark in the O-K Black Conference.

The Sailors had high hopes of winning a conference title this year, but they entered this week needing to win all three scheduled games against first-place Jenison to keep their championship hopes alive.

That goal was shot down when they lost twice to the Wildcats on Tuesday, but Mona Shores will still finish a very respectable second place.

And the best part of the season – the state tournament – is yet to come, starting with districts next week.

Bard said his squad had three preseason goals – win the conference, a district championship, and the first regional title in program history. Two of those goals are still very much within reach.

“Winning a regional title has been a goal since my sophomore year when I was first on varsity,” Flowers said. “But we know we can’t look that far ahead. We have to take it one step at a time.”