BOCA RATON – An injury incurred while celebrating FAU’s walk-off victory over FIU on Saturday will keep Owls’ weekend starter Mark Nowatnick from pitching this week at No. 20 Southern Miss and could end his season.
As a pile of Owls jumped up and down together following Jared Shouppe’s walk-off single in the 10th inning, one teammate landed on Nowatnick’s left foot.
An X-ray taken on Monday showed a crack in that foot which Nowatnick, a junior right-hander, uses to land on when delivering a pitch.
“It’s a shame for him and for us that this happened to him,” FAU coach John McCormack said.
Nowatnick began the season in the bullpen but moved into the weekend rotation two weeks ago, offering some stability to what had been a shaky weekend rotation. Sporting a 5-0 record, Nowatnick is tied for the team lead in wins. He entered the weekend series against FIU with a 1.40 ERA. After allowing four runs in 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, that ERA climbed to 2.40.
His 93-mph fastball and the resurgence of a sharp breaking ball are drawing the attention of MLB scouts.
“I thought he’s pitched very well,” McCormack said. “The numbers are good. The ERA’s good. He strikes guys out.”
Nowatnick will visit a doctor on Tuesday, at which point the Owls will learn how much time he’s expected to miss. Since the injury happened, Nowatnick has been wearing a protective boot.
The Owls lose Nowatnick right as they enter a critical part of their season. Southern Miss leads Conference USA, one game above the Owls. Old Dominion and Charlotte are tied for third, one game behind the Owls. With three weekends remaining in the regular season, the Golden Eagles boast an RPI of 21, while the Monarchs sit at 38 and Charlotte comes in at 47.
With the sweep of FIU, FAU’s RPI jumped from 71 to 59. Usually teams need an RPI below 40 to feel decent about their chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that right now, Southern Miss and Old Dominion have a really good shot of getting in,” McCormack said. “Us and Charlotte have a little work to do.”
With Nowatnick already ruled out for Saturday, FAU will likely choose between Blake Sanderson, Marc Stewart and Sean Labsan for the Saturday start in Hattiesburg.
Like Nowatnick, Sanderson spent most of the season in the bullpen but did draw the start in Tuesday’s victory over Florida Gulf Coast, throwing two scoreless innings. His 1.35 ERA is currently the best among Owls.
Stewart began the season as a midweek starter, then moved into the weekend rotation when Nick Swan struggled. He’s 1-1 on the season with a 5.40 ERA.
The Owls hoped Labsan, a senior, would be a part of their weekend rotation all season, but he began the year with an injured pectoral muscle and has never really returned to the form he showed late last season. Labsan’s 7.33 ERA in nine appearances – seven starts – is the worst on the team.
“We’ll get through it – figure something out,” MeCormack said.
NOTEWORTHY: Not all the news on Monday was bad for FAU. Conference USA named right fielder David Miranda its Co-hitter of the Week following a four-game span in which he hit .538, drove in seven runs and scored five times – one of which was the game-winning run in Friday’s walk-off win over FIU.