'It's unbelievable': Evansville baseball clinches first MVC tournament title in 18 years

EVANSVILLE — Mark Shallenberger was at a loss for words on what his team just did.

The University of Evansville Purple Aces battled with Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament championship Saturday night Braun Stadium. If the Purple Aces defeated the No. 20-ranked Sycamores, they would clinch the tournament title. If they didn't, a winner-take-all game would played on Sunday.

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So imagine what Shallenberger was feeling once UE turned a double play to win a championship. Indeed, the Aces defeated Indiana State 8-6 order to clinch their first MVC tournament title since 2006.

Shallenberger said the win is a culmination of his five years in the program and all the things his team has accomplished.

"We've slowly climbed the steps to get to the point we're at now," he said. "To be standing here wearing the hat and looking at all the people that came out and supported us all week, it's unbelievable. I wish I could find the words."

UE dominated for much of this MVC tournament as three of its victories were decided by mercy rules. The Aces' offense has been explosive as it scored 54 total runs in the tournament. UE also rallied from a five-run deficit earlier in the day in order to reach the championship.

UE baseball's Kip Fougerousse swings against Missouri State ion the MVC Tournament.
UE baseball's Kip Fougerousse swings against Missouri State ion the MVC Tournament.

The Aces (35-23) put up a three-spot in the second inning after Indiana State (42-13) scored three runs in the first. Kip Fougerousse, who leads UE in home runs, later broke the game open with a three-run bomb to right field to give the Aces their first lead.

Shallenberger had a three-hit game in the victory with an RBI single. Cal McGinnis, the MVC tournament's MVP, also had a multiple-hit performance.

"(We just) trust in our coaching staff and trust in our preparation," McGinnis said. "Just play hard and trust in God's plan."

"We knew we had a whole lot of talent in our lineup," Shallenberger added. "Throughout the season, different guys would be hot at one time and other guys would be cold. But the tournament came around, and pretty much 1-through-9 was swinging the bat good and swinging at their best. We put pressure on the pitchers, and that's what caused those big innings and those breakouts."

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UE escaped trouble a few times against Indiana State as the game waned. An Aces fielding error loaded the bases for the Sycamores in the bottom of the seventh but ISU scored only one run on a wild pitch. The Sycamores tacked on another run in the next inning but could not bring the tying run in.

Coach Wes Carroll stressed the importance of his team's two insurance runs in the final inning. He also credited his pitchers for standing up to the Sycamores.

UE's Kenton Deverman on the mound.
UE's Kenton Deverman on the mound.

"I felt like we had some guys really perform well (on the mound)," Carroll said. "Obviously, Kenton Deverman gave us a warrior effort as a starter, but Max Hansmann and Jakob Meyer coming in to close it out really leaned on our pitching staff to come through for us to bring home a championship."

UE is excited to see where it stands when Selection Sunday rolls around. Getting back into the NCAA tournament is something this program has wanted for the last 18 years.

"It's something you dream of as a kid, watching the Selection Show, the regionals, the super regionals, the College World Series," McGinnis said. "It's a dream come true, and it's going to be awesome with the team to enjoy that. It'll be interesting to see where we're going."

The Braun Stadium crowd has also been electric throughout the weekend as Evansville hosted the tournament for the first time since 1998. Cheers of "Aces, aces, aces" and "Let's go Aces" constantly rang out from the hometown crowd. They came even more alive once they found out their team was champions.

"They came out in full force in support of this great baseball team," Carroll said. "Nine o'clock on Wednesday. Eleven o'clock on Friday. And they showed up for us today in two crucial games. Hearing (those chants) really uplifted our guys and gave us the energy we needed to be able to finish."

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Evansville baseball clinches first MVC tournament title since 2006