BOCA RATON – Given FAU coach John McCormack’s penchant for putting pressure on opposing defenses, it’s wasn’t surprising that one of the first runs scored by FAU this season came via an RBI bunt.
What might have caught observers off guard was that it was the clean-up hitter who delivered that first-inning bunt.
Even more surprising? That clean-up hitter was second baseman Stephen Kerr.
A top of the order stalwart throughout his first three seasons as an Owl, McCormack moved Kerr down in the order with hopes that removing the lead-off hitter mindset might free Kerr to be more effective at the plate.
“With his at-bats throughout the end of the fall and throughout the spring he was looking to drive the ball more. He was looking to get the ball in the gap more,” said McCormack, telling Kerr, “Let’s not even worry about the lead-off thing where you take pitches. Bat fourth and just hit.”
Three games into his final collegiate season, Kerr called his new spot in the batting order “different but fun.”
“You try to keep the same mindset as if I was a lead-ff hitter, but obviously I didn’t have to see as many pitches,” Kerr said. “I can go up there and swing and do my thing.”
Kerr hit better than .300 during his first two seasons as an Owl, scoring 95 runs and swiping 25 bases.
During his junior season, while most of the Owls were soaring, Kerr limped through the season’s final months, finishing with a career-high 17 stolen bases to go with five homers but also a career-low .253 batting average.
This year, Kerr is simplifying the hitting process.
“As a lead-off hitter your role is to get on base,” Kerr said. “Rather than me trying to get on base, when I’m in the four hole I can just swing without really thinking too much. I think it’s going to help.”
That didn’t mean Kerr forgot everything he learned as a lead-off hitter.
In that first inning on Friday with runners on first and third Kerr intended to fake the bunt and take the pitch, giving both the pitcher and Monmouth’s infielders something to think about. But Hawks hurler Ricky Dennis delivered a change-up that sailed up and in, prompting Kerr to bunt it to the right side, advancing Esteban Puerta and scoring Jordan Shouppe on a play officially scored as a sacrifice.
“He said, ‘If I took it, it would have hit me in the face,” McCormack said.
In Sunday’s victory Kerr delivered an at-bat more customary from a clean-up hitter.
During fall practice Kerr moved his stance closer to the plate, putting his toes on the line of the batter’s box nearest the plate. That’s how he started the season, too. But when Monmouth pitchers constantly busted him inside with fastballs, the senior moved away from the plate.
The result? Kerr launched a home run late in Sunday’s game.
“It was a good one,” Kerr said.
During the weekend Kerr smacked four hits, including the homer, drove in three runs and scored twice. He also stole a base.
With Kerr sliding down to a run producing spot in the order, McCormack needed a new lead-off hitter.
He elected to go with sophomore shortstop Tyler Frank, who responded by going 10-for-17 with a homer and six runs scored.
“That was a good weekend,” Frank said.