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High school baseball: Flowery Branch pitcher Andrew Armstrong saw all signs pointing toward Florida State
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Andrew Armstrong of Flowery Branch (10) pitches the ball on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, during the Class 5A baseball state semifinal game between Buford and Flowery Branch at Gerald McQuaig Field. - photo by David Barnes

Andrew Armstrong has an eye for unique detail. 

The left-hander’s three-quarter arm slot deceives hitters, a quality not many high school southpaw pitchers have. 

Many times he had the opportunity to tweak his delivery, but now his critics have the last laugh. 

“There’s some pictures of me growing up throwing like that,” Armstrong said. “A lot of times people will tell me not to throw like that because that’s not what a lot of people do, but I’ve stuck with it. Glad I stuck with it now.”

His mechanics placed him in a unique position. The Flowery Branch High rising senior received 10 offers from Division I schools, including Florida State, Georgia and Alabama (the three that ultimately made his shortlist). 

Flowery Branch coach Joey Ray praises Armstrong for his distinct delivery, tagging it as the attribute which excited suitors most. That, and his fervor to compete.

“He wants the ball,” Ray said. “He wants to pitch against the best and compete against the best.”

The best is who he’s faced year after year in pursuit of a state championship. 

As a sophomore in 2018, Armstrong served may roles. He started and closed game, manned the outfield and took stints at first base. But it was the postseason of that year that changed his role for the better. 

After the pitcher continued to excel and control his emotions throughout the season, Ray entrusted him with the ball for Game 1 throughout the playoffs. He dominated in the first round adding “a ton of confidence” to himself and the team.

Soon after, the Falcons advanced to the state semifinals where he gave the team a chance to win a huge game on the road at Buford’s hostile environment. They fell two wins short of the state championship. 

“Once we got to the playoffs last year, his confidence rose every time out," Ray said. "He started feeding off success, and he just wanted to ball. That’s when he started emerging as a frontline type guy. 

“He had a couple of schools interested, and the noise he made in the playoffs started opening some eyes.”

Mike Martin Jr., Florida State’s recruiting coordinator and assistant coach and son of head coach Mike Martin, was as excited as anyone. After several attempts to watch the southpaw pitch, he finally got the chance in early March to see him throw in person as the Falcons faced Lanier High. Martin Jr. promised Armstrong he’d be the first stop during the recruiting window, and he was. 

Armstrong made his initial official visit to Tallahassee in late March, and that was it. Florida State was it. He committed on March 12, 2019. 

Florida State is no stranger to criticism about its athletic facilities. The lack of funds allocated to bettering the football facilities reportedly ran former National Champion football coach Jimbo Fisher out of Tallahassee. 

Armstrong had other priorities. 

His visit came during the Boston College series. What he saw at Dick Howser Stadium, in Tallahassee, was unique. No other school quite compared.

With the Seminoles sporting a 17-7 record and coming off an exasperating loss to archrival Florida, the Seminoles seemed shaky. But the fans were still in full attendance “no matter what or how they were playing.”

Florida State lost the three-game series, as the Eagles outscored them 21-11. The lone win of the series came that Saturday night. Down by 2, Boston College tied the game in the seventh. FSU responded with a walk-off single in the ninth.

“Got to see all the fans go crazy and that was cool,” Armstrong said.

Talk about a solid recruiting tool. The cool rush of adrenaline and surging goosebumps makes walk-offs incomparable. Pure ecstasy. 

“It makes everything way more fun to me when you have fans to play for,” Armstrong said.

“They’re always going to be into the game, and they’re going to travel even if they’re kinda far. They will make the drive and watch.”

Florida State fans made good on that truth last weekend at the NCAA Baseball Athens Regional, just one hour from Armstrong’s house. Unranked-Florida State swept the regional including two wins over No. 4 Georgia. The ‘Noles faithful filled Foley Field with unwavering cheer.

And then there’s Mike Martin.

“When I went on my first visit to Florida State, they were having a practice, and he talked to me almost the entire practice for two hours just like I was a regular person," Armstrong said. "It’s really cool how he’s able to talk about stuff that’s not just baseball. He can relate to a regular person.”

The 40-year brand of Seminole baseball plans to retire after their postseason run. Who wouldn’t want to play for a legend?

“It doesn’t play as much of a role in my decision as other people because all along in my recruiting process, everybody that I’ve talked to has always said don’t commit to a coach, commit to a school because in college baseball, coaches change all the time,” Armstrong said. 

“It’s not very often you see a coach stay somewhere for so long like Mike Martin. It wasn’t as big of a deal for me that they’re going to have a new coach because it happens a lot in many programs.”

But that’s what made Mike Martin so attractive to recruits, an embodiment of success and tradition fixed upon the dugout’s top step. He’s been good for baseball.

Now as he plucks himself from the program, a new era will begin. Armstrong will be at the beginning of it, throwing from his southpaw, three-quarter arm slot. With him, the tradition of recruiting illusive left-handed pitchers continues for Florida State and hopefully the flourishing growth of the program.

As for Armstrong’s ideal choice for head coach, Mike Martin Jr. seems to fit the bill perfectly.

“I think the fact that he’s been in the program for so long as a player and as a coach has a lot to do with it,” Armstrong said. “He’s experienced it (all) there, and he’s not just somebody who came from out of town.

“He’s been to Omaha.”

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