Things have not always gone according to plan for Louis Aquila, but in this case it’s a good thing.
Slowed by injuries, the 2020 Sierra High grad has had little opportunity to showcase his pitching prowess in recent years. That didn’t matter to East Central University head coach Lloyd Gage, who offered a lucrative athletic scholarship that Aquila could not resist.
Aquila, coming off a gray-shirt freshman year at Modesto Junior College, committed last week the day of his visit and is brimming with anticipation to return to the Ada, Okla. Campus next month as a full-fledged student-athlete. The 19-year-old right-hander expects to have all four years of eligibility left with the NCAA Division II program.
“It’s a good scholarship, but overall I just felt at home there,” Aquila said, adding that the scholarship covers about 75% of tuition. “It’s a really beautiful area and I’ve always wanted to go to a four-year school in the Texas-Oklahoma area. It felt like I belonged.
“The coaches and staff there were really awesome and the people were real nice. The college is amazing, the atmosphere is nice and I really enjoyed my time there.”
Aquila said he is close to full strength as he continues his recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The operation to repair the ulnar lateral ligament tear on his throwing arm took place on May 21, 2020 at the end of his senior year at Sierra. Several scholarship offers were taken off the table, and he went on to focus on classes and rehab for the next year year-plus.
He has put in some work on the field in the last two months with the MJC team, most notably bullpen sessions.
“I’m almost there,” he said. “The only thing I need to build up is my endurance.”
It has certainly been a bumpy road getting to this point. Since his dominant sophomore campaign with Sierra’s junior varsity team, Aquila has only pitched two innings — both in a relief appearance during his junior year when the Timberwolves went undefeated in the Valley Oak League and finished with a 21-4-1 record.
Aquila dealt with persistent back pain caused by a car accident before his junior season, keeping him from logging more innings on the mound. He still played third base and paced the team with a .381 batting average and 17 RBIs to earn a spot on the All-VOL first team.
In November of 2019, Aquila took part in the Perfect Game Showcase in Los Angeles but could only throw nine pitches because of pain and swelling on his arm. A magnetic resonance imaging scan revealed the UCL tear that night.
His senior season with Sierra was doomed anyway, as the spreading coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of all high school sports for the rest of the academic year.
The intent from there was to gray-shirt at MJC and play for the Pirates in 2022, but then his luck finally turned for the better.
Aquila stayed in contact with some college coaches while establishing new connections with others via the Next College Student Athlete recruiting service. He realized there was still interest in him despite the surgery and inactivity, so he scheduled visits to three universities for late June.
While en route to East Central, Aquila received a call from assistant coach Hayden George.
“While we were driving, one of the coaches asked me for my preferred number and I said 34 — it’s just the number I’ve always played with and it’s my lucky number, I guess,” he said. “When I showed up, they had my name on a locker with a No. 34 jersey. It was shocking because I was not expecting that.”
Aquila and his father, Frank, toured the facilities and within an hour was offered the scholarship. Coach Gage sees ace potential in Aquila, and his staff did all it could to make him feel welcome.
“I’m really excited about it,” Aquila said. “Out of high school I wanted to get out and go to a four-year (university). That was the goal, but with Tommy John that was put on the back burner. Knowing I can still go out and get with a four-year with all four years of eligibility, I’m super stoked. I’m hoping to make a decent impact at East Central.”