'We mean baseball here': Locals fueling Evansville's NCAA tournament super regional run (2024)

EVANSVILLE — For decades, the backbone of the University of Evansville baseball program has been its local talent.

This year is no different as the Purple Aces' roster is littered with former Southwestern Indiana prep standouts. Many are playing critical roles during the program's best NCAA Tournament run, which will continue this weekend against No. 1 Tennessee in the Aces' first super regional appearance.

UE (38-24) has taken down two nationally ranked teams this postseason, including No. 16 East Carolina twice during last weekend's Greenville Regional to continue this magical run. Could it knock off another?

"The core guys that we have really strong ties within this community," UE coach Wes Carroll said. "And it's also setting the tone hopefully for the future, the next 10 or 15 years, that the talent around here sees what we're able to accomplish here and wants to be a part of what we're growing and how special of a student-athlete experience they can have here playing baseball."

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'We mean baseball here': Locals fueling Evansville's NCAA tournament super regional run (1)

Carroll trusted righties Nick Smith and Shane Harris to deliver on the mound in Monday's winner-take-all regional championship. They combined for three walks and six punchouts in an electric East Carolina atmosphere as Harris picked up his second save of the regional by striking out two Pirates in just nine pitches. He had thrown 81 the day before.

"It's just a surreal feeling going out there in the late game and the crowd's really loud," said Harris, who graduated from North Posey. "I really loved every second of it. I stepped off the mound a couple times to kind of take it all in and remind the little kid in myself that this is why I play and that this is fun."

Harris was emotional seeing Smith start in the championship. While the Boonville graduate and 2022 Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year has battled through injuries this season, he stepped onto the mound and delivered when it mattered most.

'We mean baseball here': Locals fueling Evansville's NCAA tournament super regional run (2)

"It crept in my mind that, 'Hey, I have 10 guys' career in my hand,'" Smith said. "But I kind of pushed that to the side and kind of went out there and just gave it my all."

Ty Rumsey added: "We all kind of had a feeling that the old Nick Smith was going to show up. It's something special seeing him throw the way that he did."

Heritage Hills graduate Simon Scherry delivered in the leadoff spot with seven hits in the regional while Rumsey, a North product, has thrived on defense. He made one of their biggest highlights of the season with a SportsCenter Top 10 diving catch in center field in the regional opener.

"I've gotten hundreds of texts, DMs on social media and a lot of support from local people and all my family and friends," Rumsey said. "It's a little overwhelming at times, but it's definitely fun and a great experience."

UE is ready to keep the party going in Knoxville, Tennessee, this weekend in a best-of-three series with the top-ranked Volunteers (53-11) starting Friday. The Aces aren't fazed by the environment they're about to step into. They're well-seasoned after last weekend in North Carolina and earlier trips this spring to Oral Roberts, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, among others.

"Going into a big-time stadium like (Mississippi State) kind of prepared us (for Greenville)," Scherry said. "Realizing that we can play on the big stage was a really good memory."

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The Aces are playing with house money. The program has reached new heights and is in a completely different spot than when some of the players committed — UE had won just 12 games in 2018. They've since won at least 30 in each of the last three seasons, including their first MVC tournament title since 2006 on their home field two weeks ago against Indiana State.

Their efforts have shined a national spotlight on Evansville and Southwestern Indiana as their supporters continue their rallying cry of, "Get Up, Ace Country."

"You get that backing and all the local little league teams that come out on the field and point us out," Smith said. "We were in the same place they were. Stuff like that really makes it the whole bigger picture."

Harris added: "We've got a lot of talent here in Evansville, Indiana. It's just cool to show people that we mean baseball here."

'We mean baseball here': Locals fueling Evansville's NCAA tournament super regional run (3)

Knoxville Super Regional: Evansville vs. No. 1 Tennessee

Best-of-three format; all times CDT

Friday

Game 1: 2 p.m. on ESPN2

Saturday

Game 2: 10 a.m. on ESPN2

Sunday

Game 3 (if necessary): 5 p.m. on ESPNU

'We mean baseball here': Locals fueling Evansville's NCAA tournament super regional run (2024)
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