Nobody came into Sunday feeling sorry for Evansville.

On Saturday, the Purple Aces became the first ever 4-seed to beat the No. 1 national seed in an NCAA Tournament game. They did so by shrugging off a trio of Tennessee solo blasts and erasing a 4-run deficit to stun the Vols and force an all-or-nothing Super Regional showdown. Mind you, that was on the heels of Evansville stunning Regional host East Carolina … twice.

The Purple Aces were battle-tested, unfazed and undeterred in their bid at more history. There’s no denying that.

There’s also no denying that by night’s end, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Evansville.

Why? Well, Tennessee happened.

The team with more home runs than anyone in the 21st century didn’t tighten up with 2022 flashbacks on the table (more on that in a minute).

Instead, it unloaded. Like, it unloaded 7 home runs (that tied a single-game program record) en route to Omaha.

Tennessee’s 12-1 victory was more than enough to halt Evansville’s Cinderella path in its tracks and earn a return trip to the College World Series. It was a statement. It was a reminder that this Tennessee team was more poised and mature than the 2022 squad that watched a No. 1 overall seed go by the wayside at the hands of Notre Dame in the Knoxville Super Regional.

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello insisted that was the case. But in reality, we weren’t truly going to get an answer to that until the Vols finally took the field on Sunday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Consider the alternative. Again, with no disrespect to Evansville, the only thing the Purple Aces and Notre Dame have in common is that they were both from the state of Indiana. To lose a Super Regional to a 4-seed like Evansville would’ve been even more deflating than 2022.

Vitello wouldn’t have just been “the coach who couldn’t win the big one.” He would’ve been the “fraud.” After all the good he’s done to establish Tennessee as one of the premier programs in the sport the last 4 seasons, he would’ve had just 1 win in Omaha — and 2 embarrassing Knoxville Super Regional exits to teams from the Midwest as the No. 1 overall seed — to show for it.

Yeah, that would’ve been tough to shake.

Instead, though, this was nothing like 2022. And most importantly, it wasn’t like Saturday. Granted, for the second time in as many days, the Vols chased the Evansville starter after he only recorded 4 outs. But unlike Saturday when Tennessee’s bats went quiet after a trio of early solo home runs and its pitching staff surrendered crooked numbers in 3 consecutive innings to blow that 5-1 lead, the Vols looked the part of the No. 1 seed.

They could do no wrong. It wasn’t just that Christian Moore got his confidence back at the top of the lineup with a pair of home runs. Vitello decided to put Mizzou transfer Dalton Bargo into the No. 8 spot after he didn’t have an at bat in the Super Regional and his last home run came more than 2 months ago. How did that decision work out? The Omaha native went deep in each of his first 2 trips to the plate.

When you’re hot, you’re hot. Tennessee, even by its own absurd standard, was hot.

That was also true of Vols starter Zander Sechrist, who got the ball having allowed just 2 earned runs combined in his last 3 starts. Sechrist continued that with his best showing yet. An unearned run in the first and a bases-loaded jam that he worked out of in the 5th to preserve a 5-1 lead was the only bit of adversity that the southpaw faced.

Sure, he had a big cushion. But the last thing that Vitello wanted was to again struggle to find guys who could get outs. Instead, his biggest dilemma was deciding when to get Sechrist the proper ovation from the sellout crowd.

He opted for the top of the 7th inning after he didn’t allow an earned run or a walk.

(Vitello did the same later on for the mustached lefty Kirby Connell, who left the game in the top of the 9th to a fan ovation.)

It was that kind of night for the Vols. It’s not one that Tennessee fans will take for granted, especially after 2022. It was the second time in program history that they won a Super Regional in Knoxville and the 7th time that they punched a ticket to the College World Series.

That’s all history now. Now the question is if more history is on the way.

Tennessee’s pursuit of its first College World Series title will start with a matchup against Florida State, which is also fittingly trying to win its first national championship. You can bet that’ll be a popular topic of conversation leading up to Omaha. You can also bet that Vitello would much rather answer those questions than the questions that would’ve come if his team had collapsed against Evansville.

Crisis averted? You could say that.

You could also say that Tennessee will proudly wear a giant target into Charles Schwab Field. It earned that, and not just because it reminded everyone on Sunday night that it’s a walking, talking dinger. You don’t sweep the toughest conference in the sport en route to Omaha just by having a lineup of sluggers. You do that by being a multi-faceted juggernaut. Tennessee is that.

Evansville found that out the hard way. Will the CWS field follow suit? That’s unclear.

One thing is clear, though — it’s now officially title or bust on Rocky Top.