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Sept. 19, 2007
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Former USC Upstate baseball star Chris Nowak (Milwaukee, Wis.) has continued to shine during his professional baseball career, as he recently led the Montgomery Biscuits to its second-straight Class AA Southern League Championship. The 6-4 infielder was named the unanimous Southern League Championship Series MVP after hitting .611 (11-for-18) with three home runs during the series.
Nowak started a dramatic ninth-inning rally for the Biscuits in the fifth-and-deciding game of the championship series against the Huntsville Stars, as he posted his fourth hit of the night, a single through the left side to lead off the inning and the Biscuits down, 3-1. After a lineout, Nowak took third on a single, setting up a championship-clinching three-run homer from Sergio Pedroza.
"It was real cool," Nowak said. "When I was at third, the manger and I talked and said this is really a good match-up against this pitcher. He had a nice hard fastball and we knew it wouldn't get past Pedroza. The first pitch, he hits it the opposite way and my manager and I were yelling for the ball to get up, get up. And it did. Our whole team was out on the field and it wasn't a walk-off homer. I lost my voice for about an hour after that because all I kept shouting was, `Yeah.' We felt like we knocked the win d out of their sails. I remember catching the ball to end the game on a double play and then not much after that. We piled up and hugged everybody."
Nowak finished his first full season at Double-A with a .304 batting average, seven homers and 55 RBIs. He also stole 18 bases and added a hefty .396 on-base percentage. In his final 15 games, Nowak was on fire, hitting five homers and batting .467 (28-for-60).
The league has become known as an elite "finishing school" for players who are considered ready, or nearly so, for the Majors. And its alumni have gone on to some pretty lofty heights, including 24 former AFL players participating in the 2007 Major League All-Star Game in San Francisco.
"I'm very, very excited," Nowak said about heading to Arizona. "The percentage is pretty high for guys invited to the league to make it to the majors. I feel honored to go and I hope it helps me accomplish my dream of making the big leagues. I hope I can show whoever is watching that I will go out there, play hard every day and the team win."
During his three years on campus, there was no doubt that Nowak was a special player. He left USC Upstate after only three years, but held the school's career record for hits (232), since broken, and doubles (53). He posted a .376 career batting average and 121 RBIs.
"Going to college was a big step for me," Nowak said of his time at USC Upstate. "Coming out of high school I was a good player, but I needed something to put me on the right track to becoming a better baseball player. Coach Fincher really opened up the mental side of the game to me and he really helped me understand how the game is played. We accomplished things that hadn't happened in the program in a long time. From where the program was when I got there to when I left, it showed what kind of coach he is, the kind of players he recruits and the kind of program he has. He'll have guys who will go out there and play hard and his teams won't be out-coached if he has anything to say about it."
Drafted in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Players' Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Nowak has advanced progressively through the minors, spending the 2004 season with the short-season Class A Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League. He moved up to the low Class A affiliate, the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays, and spent 2006 in the high-Class A California League with the Visalia Oaks, where he hit .308 with 11 homers and 103 RBIs in a notorious pitchers' league.