Florida Atlantic ran out of pitching and timely hitting in Sunday’s Conference USA championship game, allowing No. 17 Southern Miss to claim a 12-3 victory, the Conference USA title and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.
Despite the loss, FAU finished the season with 40-17-1 record and a respectable RPI that may climb into the high 20s by the time weekend play concludes. FAU reached the 40-win mark by winning four games in the Conference USA tournament. Last year every team that recorded 40 victories received an NCAA bid. The Owls also added their first Conference USA championship game appearance in program history.
The Owls earned their trip the championship game beating Rice 9-8 in 10 innings in a game that ended after 2 a.m. local time.
Playing on short rest, FAU put runners on base early – four times in seven innings the lead-off hitter reached – but couldn’t push a run across until Gunnar Lambert blasted a three-run homer over the right field wall in the seventh, cutting the Southern Miss lead to 5-3. For Lambert the homer was the third of the tournament.
Third seeded FAU would get no closer. The top-seeded Golden Eagles responded with two more runs in the bottom of the inning and FAU never again threatened.
The Owls played from behind nearly the entire game. With the Owls’ pitching staff depleted after playing four games in two days, a run which included one extra inning affair and weather delays, FAU coach John McCormack gave Nick Prather the start.
A candidate for the weekend rotation at the beginning of the season, Prather fell out of favor by the season’s midpoint and was used only sparingly in the second half. He showed why on Sunday.
Unable to keep the ball down in the strike zone, Prather served up two-run homers in the first and second innings and was on the bench before he could record a fifth out. Prather was the first of six FAU pitches employed on the afternoon, with lefty Weston Clemente making his fifth appearance in a three-day span.
Mark Notwatnick pitched well in relief, surrendering only one run in 4 2/3 innings – and that blemish was a bit unlucky. Two batters in the sixth hit balls back off Nowatnick for singles. One would eventually come around to score.
FAU managed nine hits on the afternoon, with Tyler Frank being the lone Owl to enjoy a multi-hit game. Frank’s error, however, contributed to Southern Miss’ five- run eighth inning.
Frank, Lambert, Eric Rivera, Jared DeSantolo and Blake Sanderson earned All-Tournament honors for FAU.
Florida Atlantic plans to bus home from Biloxi. The Owls hope to be back in Boca Raton by the time the NCAA announces its field of 64 on Monday at noon.