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2024 MSU Home Run Derby is a smash hit, winner hits 13 home runs

The 2024 Michigan State Home Run Derby finally arrived and although the weather conditions weren’t ideal, the derby continued and MSU students were ready to hit some baseballs. 

Moments before batters began their attempts at the plate, Michigan State baseball’s sophomore infielder Randy Seymour and junior catcher Noah Bright warmed up in front of competitors as they had just finished up practice at McLane Stadium.

A total of seven student competitors lined up inside the dugout while spectators watched from the stands, cheering on the students. 

The rules of the derby were just like any other: three different rounds, ten swings and whoever had the most home runs wins the round.

It took a couple of attempts for the very first batter, Matthew Guziewicc, to hit the ball far but soon enough, he cranked the first of many home runs on the night. He finished his first round with only one home run but was the leader.

With only one on the board so far, the second batter, Andrew Johnson, tried to give the spectators and his fellow competitors a bit of insight into his motivation for his performance on the night as he walked up to home plate with a J.P. Crawford Seattle Mariners jersey.

Crawford is a shortstop for the Mariners and he finished his last season with over 20 home runs. Johnson said that he channeled his inner Crawford as he walked up to home plate.

It seemed that the inner channeling had been working for Johnson on his very first swing which was just inches short of being a home run. That didn’t matter though because Johnson sent a total of five homers over the wall, including two straight over center field. 

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Michigan State University’s Baseball team hosted its inaugural Student Home Run Derby on April 18, 2024, at Secchia Stadium.

Johnson set a new bar, which made many inside the dugout start to question whether they would be able to hit that mark. 

Two of the next three batters finished with just one home run apiece like Guziewicc, forcing a three-way tie to make it into the second round between fourth batter Lauren Tarnowsky, sixth batter — and last year’s champion — Owen Leshok and Guziewicc. 

After sending one straight home run over center field in her first attempt, Tarnowsky went on to get another home run in the tie breaker. It was not enough to advance her into the next round, but she was proud of the home runs she had hit and the support that her three friends gave her. 

“It was just really cool, this is my last one with just being a senior so I definitely was coming, and I also brought my support team so that was really exciting,” Tarnowsky said. “Just to be able to hit two home runs today was awesome.”

After only hitting one homer in his first attempt, Leshok turned things around in the tie-breaker with three home runs to just beat out Guziewiccs’ two tie-breaker home runs. Both of their efforts earned each of them a spot in the second round along with Johnson and Tom Rebaut. 

Guziewicc was only able to manage three home runs in the second round, which put him in an elimination spot early. 

Johnson followed his first attempt of five home runs with another five home runs, once again leaving his competition wondering if they could best his score. 

Rebaut had nearly tied Johnson with four home runs, but he wasn’t able to get a final ball over the wall in his last two attempts, putting him at four home runs in the second round, seemingly enough to get him into the final round.

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Michigan State University’s Baseball team hosted its inaugural Student Home Run Derby on April 18, 2024, at Secchia Stadium. 

At this point, Leshok had put up a total of four home runs between the first round and the tie-breaker, but nobody had expected Leshok to come out and tie Johnson’s score of five homers, even hitting three in a row and then two in a row shortly after.

The final round had been set: Johnson against Leshok.

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On his third swing, Johnson hit his first home run of the round, which was also the farthest and highest home run of the night. However, Johnson was only able to get two more home runs, coming up shorter than his last two attempts, and finished with three home runs in the final round.

Luckily enough for Johnson, the three home runs turned out to be just enough as Leshok was only able to get a single home run in the final round.

Although he wasn’t able to claim the winning title two years in a row, Leshok was still happy to be able to compete in the Home Run Derby and enjoyed that his commitment to the team helps out with events like these.

“It’s something good for the baseball fans out there to show people that they are committed to following the team throughout the season,” Leshok said. “I went to every game that I was able to last year and I’ve done the same this year.”

Leshok admitted that he thought his first attempt at the plate was just a warm-up and once he figured out that it counted he had to make up for it in the next few rounds.

“I wasn’t able to get the job done, but I’m glad I made it that far,” Leshok said. 

After the champion of the derby finished taking a group photo with all the competitors, and then another victory photo with his prized custom bat and a few MSU baseball players, he talked about how he prepared for his epic 13 home run night. 

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Senior Owen Leshok won the Michigan State University Baseball team’s inaugural Student Home Run Derby on April 18, 2024, at Secchia Stadium. 

“I did just a little preparation in my room, I was doing some shadow swings, trying to get the groove down,” Johnson said. “You know it’s better to do a few swings than to come out here and be dry, but then getting up there I just wanted to take the first pitch and time it up. After that I just wanted to let loose.”

When asked if he would be back to defend his title next year, Johnson gave a simple answer.

“I’m definitely coming back next year.”

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