The University of Evansville baseball team staged a late rally to seal the deal on the Missouri Valley Conference's fourth and final bye in the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference tournament, beating the University of Illinois-Chicago Saturday afternoon in Chicago.
University of Evansville junior second baseman Kip Fougerousse blasted a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning, and junior closer Nate Hardman slammed the door shut in the bottom half of the frame to earn his 10th save of the year to help the Purple Aces rally past the UIC Flames, 2-1, on Saturday at Curtis Granderson Stadium in Chicago, Illinois. With the win, the Purple Aces earn a first-day bye in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and UE will open tournament play on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. central against No. 3 Southern Illinois.
UIC struck first on Saturday with a run in the first inning, but then both starters – UE’s Jarrett Blunt and UIC’s Jeff Zack – went to work and kept both offenses at bay. Blunt was spectacular, as he went a career-high 7.0 innings in just his fourth start of the season. Blunt allowed just the single run in the first inning, and five hits total, while striking out seven men for UE. It was needed, because Zack baffled the Evansville offense all day, holding UE to a pair of doubles and a walk in 8.0 shutout innings.
The game would remain 1-0 until the top of the ninth inning, when Evansville got a little luck prior to Fougerousse’s big blow. Graduate outfielder Eric Roberts led off the inning with a high fly ball to left-center field that the center fielder couldn’t handle, and it kicked away to allow Roberts to advance all the way to third base.
After a strikeout by UIC closer Reece Lawler (0-1), Fougerousse drove a 2-2 pitch deep over the left-field wall for his 12th home run of the year to give UE a 2-1 lead. It marked the second ninth-inning, game-winning home run in the last month for Fougerousse, who also had a game-winning grand slam at Murray State on April 22. Hardman then came out of the UE bullpen and worked around a single and error to strike out the final two men he faced to nail down his 10th save of the year, and make a winner out of reliever Shane Harris (5-2), who worked a scoreless eighth inning for UE.
Fougerousse had two of UE’s four hits on the day, with a double and home run. Fifth-year first baseman Chase Hug also doubled for UE, while junior shortstop Simon Scherry had a bunt single in the ninth inning.
With the victory, Evansville finishes the regular-season with a 33-22 overall record and 15-12 MVC record, as the Purple Aces finished tied with Southern Illinois for third place in the Valley standings. Evansville and SIU will now square off on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. central time in the third game of the 2023 MVC Tournament in Terre Haute, Indiana.