Surprising Evansville has a winning hand in getting to the super regional against No. 1 Tennessee

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Evansville was an afterthought in the college baseball discussion two weeks ago.

It entered the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament as the No. 3 seed, a decided underdog to regular-season champ and rival Indiana State. The Purple Aces were relying on a true freshman pitcher and a committed coach who believed in them.

They have exceeded expectations.

Evansville swept four games to win the league crown, earning their first NCAA berth since 2006, and emerged as this year's tourney darling as they continued to win this past week. Now the Aces are going all in Friday's matchup at top-seeded Tennessee in the school's first super regional appearance.

“Our plan at the beginning of the season was just to make a regional,” designated hitter Kip Fougerousse said. “We weren't playing our best baseball when we went to Mississippi State, but we kept grinding and kept improving every weekend. The MVC Tournament semes like it was two months ago, and now we're heading to a super regional. It's crazy."

Crazy, indeed, for a mid-major program sitting just six games above .500 on May 16 and is now just the ninth No. 4 seed to advance this far.

Coach Wes Carroll and his experienced team created a Hollywood-like script to turn things around.

A former Evansville player, Carroll played in the minor leagues and even got chance to play in two spring training camp games with his Major League-playing brother, Jamey, in 2006. He soon retired and returned to the Purple Aces as an assistant coach, taking over the top job two years later.

He now is the mastermind of one of the nation's most unique rosters.

Instead of embracing the traditional cookie-cutter approach to roster building, Carroll cobbled together a winning hand with an unusual cast from various backgrounds and a variety of athletic skills.

Fougerousse joined the Aces as a transfer from Indiana after losing the starting first baseman job in 2022 because of injuries. When his replacement earned freshman All-American honors, Fougerousse changed schools and positions. He was a 2023 first team all-MVC selection at second base, took on a new role again this season and was rewarded with the regional tourney's Most Outstanding Player Award while extending his career best streak to six straight games with a home run.

Freshman pitcher Kenton Deverman figured he was destined to play baseball from the moment his parents accepted a gifted Stan Musial autographed baseball before he was born. The recruiting services apparently disagreed, ranking him as the 10th-best left-handed prospect in Missouri. But at Evansville (38-24), he quickly became its ace.

Deverman heads to Knoxville with a 9-1 mark, a team-high 81 strikeouts, the MVC's freshman of the year award, wins in the MVC title game and the NCAA opener at East Carolina. He also plays tennis and ping pong as a right-hander.

“I can throw a football with my right hand," he said. "I can kind of throw with my right, but it doesn't look like a normal pitch at all. I wish I could, though. That would be awesome.”

Brent Widder wasn't even specializing in baseball until high school. Long before he became a five-year starter and a key ingredient in Carroll's offense with his second grand slam of the season helping Evansville beat VCU 17-11 last weekend, Widder was traveling around Wisconsin and the nation as a tennis star.

The oddities are seemingly endless.

— Outfielder Ty Rumsey's second cousin, Stacy Jones, played drums for Miley Cyrus.

— At age 12, pitcher Max Hansman became the youngest sailor to compete in the Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac.

— A pair of pitchers, Matt Maloney and Elias Hachem, each have twin brothers playing Division I baseball.

— Eleven of the 35 rostered players have completed at least four years of college, leading to their self-dubbed nickname the Senior Citizens..

And if they weren't playing baseball, they'd probably be execlling at Indiana's favorite sport, basketball.

“We play a little bit in the fall and the games are pretty competitive,” said Fourgerousse, whose uncle, Jeff Oliphant, played on Bob Knight's 1986-87 national championship team at Indiana.

Players say Carroll's brilliance is his ability to let them be themselves with a business-like demeanor that keeps everybody focused. The combination has created a confidence.

“We've been going into every single game expecting to win,” Widder said. “We don't believe that we can't beat any team in the country.

Two more wins, against the Volunteers (53-11), the nation's most dominant college team in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era, would send the Aces to Omaha, Nebraska, for their first College World Series.

While doubters may still write off Evansville, these Aces believe they have what it takes to win.

“To make the run in the conference tournament, especially at home, we really had a belief we could do it," Carroll said. “Then you go into the Greenville Regional with house money, the mentality that ‘Hey, we've accomplished a lot of great things.' The senior group really turned around the entire culture, to play loose, play fun and things really mapped out perfectly for us.”


This story was previously published with a photo attached of East Carolina, not Evansville.


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