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Friday, June 21, 2024

‘Memories for a Lifetime’

UE baseball continues an unprecedented season with its first Super Regional appearance

While the University of Evansville baseball team already has scaled unparalleled heights, there is a strange sense of familiarity entering the Knoxville Super Regional.

Perhaps the Cinderella story of the entire field, UE (38-24) will compete against host and No. 1-ranked University of Tennessee (53-11) in a best-of-three series June 7-9. It’s been a long time coming, but in a way, the Aces have been here before. Central High School graduate Andy Benes threw a shutout and Mater Dei grad Rob Maurer hit a home run to propel the Aces to a 1-0 victory over host and No. 1-ranked Arizona State in the opener of the 1988 West II Regional.

Photo by Bob Shallenberger, provided by University of Evansville Athletics. Nick Smith pitches during the Aces’ 6-5 win over East Carolina on June 3.

Benes, who has been supporting UE via social media, had a few words of advice for the current crop of Aces, who have set team records for doubles, home runs, and runs scored.

“Have fun and seize the moment,” Benes tells Evansville Living. “Memories for a lifetime.”

He speaks from experience. Benes, whom the San Diego Padres made the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 MLB draft, posted a 155-139 record with a 3.97 earned run average in the majors from 1989-2002, including two stints with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Current UE coach Wes Carroll, a prominent member of the Aces’ 2000 NCAA tournament team, was nine years old when the Aces stunned Arizona State and the college baseball world in 1988. The program has made leaps throughout his tenure but isn’t done moving mountains.

“It is a great opportunity for our program to perform on a national stage against the No. 1 team in the country,” Carroll says. “We have a veteran club playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. We are showing up to the yard loose and playing the game with pride.”

Photo by Bob Shallenberger, provided by University of Evansville Athletics. Players greet fans as they arrive home June 4 from the Greenville Regional.

An estimated 200 people gathered at UE’s Braun Stadium to welcome the Aces home June 4. They have a few days’ respite before playing Tennessee in the Super Regional opener at 2 p.m. CDT on June 7 in Knoxville, Tennessee. The second game will be held at 10 a.m. June 8. Both will be televised by ESPN2. A third game, if necessary, will begin at 5 p.m. on June 9, on ESPNU.

The Aces showcased a galaxy of stars in winning the Greenville Regional, their first such championship in program history. Mark Shallenberger hit a go-ahead, three-run homer to give underdog Evansville a 6-5 lead over host and No. 16 East Carolina in the sixth inning, and the Aces’ pitching staff made it stand up for a victory by that margin in the series clincher on June 3. The Aces were just the ninth No. 4 seed to claim a regional title.

Kip Fougerousee homered in all four games in finishing 6-for-14 with seven runs batted in to earn the regional’s Most Outstanding Player honor. He tied the school record with his 21st homer in the first inning of the championship game; Fougerousee has homered in six successive games and eight of the last nine. Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Kenton Deverman allowed three hits and one run in eight strong innings and Shane Harris earned the save with a scoreless ninth as they set the tone in UE’s 4-1 victory over ECU in the regional opener May 31. The Aces outslugged Virginia Commonwealth 17-11 on June 1. They were brought back to earth in a 19-6 loss to ECU on June 2 but remained undaunted.

“This has been an enormous accomplishment to win our first-ever regional,” says Carroll, a Castle High graduate. “It is a culmination of so many administrators, coaches, and student-athletes that have worked hard to elevate the baseball program over the years.”

Photo by Bob Shallenberger, provided by University of Evansville Athletics. Aces head baseball coach Wes Carroll greets former coach Jim Brownlee after the Aces’ NCAA regional title win on June 3.

Jim Brownlee, who guided the Aces’ baseball program to NCAA tournament appearances in 1988 and 2000, made the trip to Greenville, North Carolina, for the regional.

“It’s wonderful. I’m so happy for Wes because I know how hard he has worked,” Brownlee tells Evansville Living. “He loves Evansville and the Purple Aces.”

As far as facing Tennessee, Brownlee says, “Just go play and enjoy the moment. He has an older team that is very close and talented. They will not be overwhelmed.”

The UE-Tennessee winner will advance to the College World Series, which begins June 14 in Omaha, Nebraska. Pairings will be announced on June 10.

Carroll says it’s great to have so many alumni “engaged with this special team. I’m just proud we have created a moment for alums to connect back with their university.”

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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