Evansville rudely interrupts Tennessee’s Omaha plan

Marvin Westwestwords

It was not of Biblical proportions (think David vs. Goliath) but underestimated Evansville hung a big one on Tennessee Saturday.

The Purple Aces won a super regional baseball game, 10-8, and inflicted considerable damage on the Volunteers’ No. 1 reputation. Never before has such a lowly seed upset the top team in the country.

It was a sizable shock at Lindsey Nelson Stadium before a record crowd of 6,195.

“I’m just really proud of our guys,” said Evansville coach Wes Carroll. “I think, hands down, this was the greatest win of our school’s history.”

What really matters is whether the visitors just rudely interrupted or will absolutely wreck Tennessee plans for the College World Series. We’ll see Sunday evening. The decisive Game 3 starts at 6 (ESPNU). The winner goes to Omaha.

Catcher Cal Stark #10 pre-game versus the Evansville Purple Aces

Tennessee’s pitching staff appears a bit tattered. Saturday starter Drew Beam allowed five runs and didn’t last five innings. Lowlight was a two-run homer by Cal McGinnis.

The bullpen suffered a meltdown. Lefty Kirby Connell was called in as a matchup against a left-handed batter but gave up a double. Nate Snead had one of his worst innings (a home run by Brendan Hord, three other hits, three runs). Andrew Behnke arrived on the mound in time to give up a two-run homer to Kip Fougerousse.

Only J.J. Garcia got three outs without being cuffed around.

The Aces had 13 hits. Several came in critical situations. They hit safely eight times in 15 at-bats with two outs and scored seven runs. They were four of six with runners in scoring position.

Oh my.

This was a strange game of hot steaks. Tennessee hit three home runs in the first inning (Blake Burke, Dylan Dreiling and Hunter Ensley) and added a run in the second.

Beam cruised through 10 outs but had a rocky fourth inning. When the dam broke, a flood followed. The Aces scored three in the first outburst. They scored three more in the fifth inning and four in the sixth. Fans in purple whooped it up.

Tennessee launched a major rally in the ninth. Ensley batted in a run with a drive off the wall in center. Kavares Tears walked with the bases loaded. Dean Curley lofted a sacrifice fly. The bases were loaded again when leading slugger Christian Moore (30 home runs this season) made the last out.

Coach Carroll said his team doesn’t surprise him anymore.

“This was just an incredible effort after what they’ve been through over the past two weeks. For them to dig deep there in the middle part of that game and perform the way they did, it’s something I can’t really put into words.”

Carroll said the team felt pressure on Friday.

“We were tight, the dugout wasn’t really engaged, and I was upset about it. This was the complete opposite. I felt like we were ourselves. We were the Aces that like to have fun.”

Carroll said the first inning created the need for a correction from Friday.

“I said solo home runs don’t hurt. I didn’t know Tennessee was going to stack three of them back-to-back to back and kind of throw us on our heels.”

Tony Vitello weighed in on the same scene.

“It sure would be nice to have some guys on base when you hit home runs. It’s the first inning and it went down the way it did – kind of a unique situation.”

The Tennessee coach said what remains for the Vols is round three of a three-round bout.

“We’re going to have to take some blows and deliver some blows.”

Zander Sechrist is his Sunday starting pitcher. The lanky lefty is not a hard thrower.

“He’s the definition of a quirky lefty, a lovable guy and a great teammate. It’s been fun to be around him,” said Vitello. “It’s been really cool to see him evolve as a pitcher. I think that’s why our guys have faith in him. He’s earned that. He’s certainly competitive.”

“He’s been that guy every time we’ve had a series on the line,” said catcher Cal Stark. “Knowing that gives me, gives the whole team, an extra boost of confidence that he can go out there and throw it well.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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