When Rice's Michael Aquino came for batting practice at the College Home Run Derby, seeing the other seven competitors hit made him a little uneasy.
“I just got scared, honestly, because these guys were hitting them out of the stadium,” Aquino said. “I said, 'Well, at least it's not a distance contest.' ”
Aquino had a slow start to his first round. With only one out remaining, Aquino had only two home runs to his name, a number that would've eliminated him.
But like the best sluggers in baseball, Aquino wasn't going to let that the thought of failure faze him.
Then, a switch flipped in his head — or maybe his bat. A blast into the left-field bleachers quickly reversed his fortune.
“I was just saying if I don't hit any more, it was awesome being out here,” he said. “I was able to relax a little bit more and see some good pitches and hit them out.”
The three that immediately followed tied him up with Georgia Tech's Matt Gonzalez.
Appropriate for the second round, two would become the magic number for Aquino.
He didn't waste as much time to put up numbers, sending out back-to-back blasts after a few outs.
Another set of back-to-back home runs and a crack of the QuickenLoans Money Ball gave him 14 total home runs and a trip to the final round.
While he cruised as the top performer through the first two rounds, the final had an extra helping of stress. Gonzalez, the other finalist, was the only other competitor to hit more than four home runs in a round.
“When he hit five, I was definitely kind of nervous when I was going up there,” Aquino said.
He found himself in a rough position with a string of six straight outs short of the warning track. He started to kick on the power after that, though, and found himself tied for the lead with one more out left to spare.
A decisive home run gave Aquino the victory as the other competitors rushed out to celebrate.
“Off the bat I wasn't completely sure it was out,” Aquino said. “All the guys running out to me, I've never had that before. It's awesome.”
While he wasn't able to make it out to TD Ameritrade with his Rice buddies, he gets to leave Omaha with proof — a giant silver trophy — that he did his best on a huge stage.
“I think I tweeted right before I came here that it would've been awesome to have my team and coaches with me out here. That would've been huge,” he said. “But this definitely feels awesome, getting this Rice 'R' back in Omaha.”