Back in early May, Steven Karwatt was not the happiest player in a Mercer uniform.
He was a senior who was sitting. Through Mercer’s first eight games, he batted four times and had one hit. While the Bears were beating then-No. 6 Mississippi in the second game of the season, Karwatt didn’t break a sweat.
Now, it is partially on his shoulders that Mercer enters the A-Sun baseball tournament today as a darkhorse with momentum, a team none of the top seeds can overlook.
Karwatt has gone to early-season afterthought to late-season performer, carrying a .364 average into today’s tournament opener against Lipscomb.
“Once you start getting around 100 at-bats, you start to get more locked in,” said Karwatt, one of four seniors on the roster. “It’s a lot easier once you get in a rhythm and you’re hitting every day.
“I kind of got locked in (last) weekend.”
Karwatt went 5-for-5 in Mercer’s first game against Belmont, drove in the game-winning run as part of a 3-for-5 second game and scored Mercer’s first run in the 4-3 series finale win.
He is on a five-game hitting streak during which he’s batting .423 with seven RBI, and Karwatt is on a .412 clip since the start of April.
And that is a big reason Mercer finished the season strong and earned a spot in the A-Sun tournament as the No. 5 seed. The Bears are 8-7 against the tournament field and have been outscored by five runs, 101-96, a deficit courtesy of a whopping 23-5 loss May 11 to Jacksonville.
It’s been a quality senior season for Karwatt, who batted .288 as a sophomore and .244 last season. A struggle to hit off-speed pitches led to the digression.
“(Assistant) Coach (Tim) Boeth and I tried to make some adjustments,” Karwatt said. “I still struggled with them my sophomore year, but once that scouting report got out on me last year, I struggled a little more.”
He has cut down on strikeouts and is one home run away from matching his total from his first three seasons, all while moving from third base to first.
“He has been great,” head coach Craig Gibson said. “I don’t know where we would be without him. Karwatt’s really been infectious for us. He’s just a fighter, a tough kid who has rubbed off on our group.”
Karwatt is one of two seniors in the lineup, along with Houston County grad Casey Stuart.
“We have a lot of young guys,” Karwatt said of a lineup that has as many freshmen and sophomores as juniors. “I’m not that vocal, but I’ll say something when I have something to say.”
Karwatt has been eyeing the calendar as his senior season comes to a close.
“Definitely,” he said. “These are probably the last baseball games I’ll ever play. I’m trying to enjoy it more than I have.”
Tanis, Odom honored
Freshman Jacob Tanis and sophomore J.T. Odom enter the A-Sun tournament with some honors on their resumes.
Tanis was named to the conference all-freshman team Tuesday, the only Mercer player to get any all-conference nod.
Tanis is fifth on the team with a .329 average, but he leads the Bears with 11 homers and is second with 33 RBI.
It’s the first time since 2005 Mercer didn’t have a first- or second-team selection. That season, there was also no all-freshman pick.
Stetson’s Jeremy Cruz was named the A-Sun’s top player, with Kennesaw State’s Chad Jenkins the top pitcher. Belmont’s Dylan Craig is the freshman of the year and Florida Gulf Coast’s Dave Tollet the coach of the year.
Odom earned the conference’s final pitcher of the week honor on Monday.
The right-hander from St. Mary’s struck out nine Belmont batters in three appearances spanning 5-1/3 innings. He got a win and a save while allowing only one hit.
He is 5-5 with three saves and a 3.75 ERA, sixth-best in the conference.