BY STEVE KRAH
Whenever Bobby Nowak delivers the baseball it’s done with certainty.
“I want to throw with conviction,” says Nowak, a Valparaiso (Ind.) University senior right-hander. “I throw my fastball until they beat me with my fastball then I go to my off-speed.”
Nowak did this well enough to be the latest Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week. The news came Monday, April 17 on Nowak’s 23rd birthday.
Under the guidance of Beacons head coach/pitching coach Brian Schmack, Nowak moved to 4-0 with one save and a 2.10 earned run average to 2.10 by throwing a three-hit shutout in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday. April 15 at Bradley. He threw 56 of 95 pitches for strikes and struck out six and walked three in a seven-inning complete game.
Going into this week, his conference-leading ERA of 2.10 ranks 20th in the country. His rate of allowing 5.10 hits per nine innings was the best in the MVC and eighth best nationally.
For the 2023 season, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has fanned 42 and walked 13 in 30 innings over 11 appearances (three starts). He led the MVC and was 36th nationally with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He also led the league and was 35th nationally with a 1.00 WHIP (walks and hits per inning).
“I’ve always liked to strike guys out but when I do that I found myself in a lot of three-ball counts,” says Nowak. “Recently, I’ve just been throwing it with conviction and just competing.”
Throwing from an over-the-top arm slot, Nowak tosses a four-seam fastball, a “bullet” change-up and 12-to-6 curve.
He is scheduled to start Sunday, April 23 in the final game of a three-game MVC series against Illinois-Chicago at Valpo’s Emory G. Bauer Field. Until his last three outings, he had been used exclusively out of the Beacons bullpen.
Nowak was Valpo’s closer in 2022. He went 0-2 with eight saves and a 5.09 ERA. He whiffed 28 and walked seven in 17 2/3 innings. His strikeout rate was 14.26 per nine innings and he was named honorable mention all-conference while touching 96 mph.
Born in Dyer, Ind., Nowak grew up in nearby Cedar Lake. He played in youth leagues there then travel ball for Morris Baseball and what is now known as the 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
Now is a 2018 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake.
He began his prep career as a shortstop with a few mound outings. Catcher Jesse Wilkening, who went on to play at the University of Nebraska and pro ball, was a senior when Nowak was a freshman.
As Nowak’s senior year with Hanover Central approached, there was a need for him to pitch more for then-Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges. To save on his arm, he was moved from shortstop to first base when not pitching.
Nowak was supposed to be a two-way player when he went to Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. But when he arrived he told assistant Bryce Shafer he wanted to be a pitcher-only.
In 2019, Nowak started 11 games and went 6-3 with a 3.98 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 20 walks in 52 innings. He also wound up having Tommy John elbow surgery in May.
His next competitive season was 2021. He made 16 mound appearances (five starts) for KCC and went 4-4 with a 5.29 ERA, 55 K’s and 31 walks in 32 1/3 innings.
Nowak played for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen in the summer of 2018, took 2019 off and played parts of 2020, 2021 and 2022 with the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Beecher Muskies.
Bobby is the youngest of Dan and Michelle Nowak’s three children, coming after sister Danielle and brother Daniel. He is also close with a cousin, Jason.
Nowak is scheduled to graduate this spring with a Criminology degree.