ARLINGTON, Texas -- Aaron Funk was fighting for a spot in the lineup.
The sophomore UTA baseball outfielder was off to a 2-for-10 start to his 2017 season and had been summoned off the bench by Coach Darin Thomas.
He was pinch hitting with the Mavs trailing 2-0 in the seventh inning at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UTA's second weekend of the year.
Funk, a product of Mansfield High School, drew a walk to spark a one-run rally. But it was his at-bat the following inning that set the stage for a strong 2017 campaign. Funk cranked a 1-1 offering over the rightfield fence for the game-winning shot, his first career home run.
"That at-bat was important," Funk remembered. "I felt like that was a big chance for me. I remember spreading out and focusing on making contact a bit more. It wasn't even a hard swing but the ball just flew. After the season, Coach visited with me about that at-bat and singled out that moment. After that game we had a win streak and that was a big part of it to get us going."
Funk played in all but five games the remainder of the season, becoming a weapon for the lineup as a left-handed hitter with good speed and athleticism.
A 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, Funk hit .292 (38-for-130) with four doubles, two triples, the big homer and 15 RBI. It was a strong second season after Funk was primarily a late-inning defensive replacement in 2016, where he hit .176 in 29 games and one start.
Over the summer, Funk had knee surgery which kept him from fall practice. He enters the season in the sixth month of his surgery rehab, slated to take between six and 12 months of recovering time.
"Everyday I have to focus on going in early and paying attention to my rehab and do my best in practice, then stay after for rehab," Funk said. "It is all focused on being healthy and getting on the field."
A former star quarterback at Mansfield High School, who received football recruiting interest from Houston, Funk has translated the mentality of a leader on the gridiron to his collegiate career on the diamond.
"I've become more of a leader," Funk said about his three years at UTA. "The ability to learn from some of the older guys when I was younger has been a big help for me. Freshmen and young guys are a big asset to the team and if I have the chance to help then I am eager too."
Funk and the Mavs will open their 2018 season vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Feb. 16 at Clay Gould Ballpark.
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