Tennessee baseball picked up its eighth straight win Wednesday as it knocked off Charleston Southern 8-2 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Tony Vitello was pleased with his team’s mindset entering the game as the Vols jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two innings. Tennessee used eight different pitchers in the lopsided win.
Here’s everything the Vols sixth-year head coach said postgame.
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On how important it is to get off to a fast start to get other guys playing time
“It’s huge. I think it’s a byproduct of how sound they showed up to the park today or just the energy they had was interesting to me because I would rate it No. 1 to this point in the year. That’s encouraging because we should be making progress in every category, but Wednesday’s are not your typical days that you play and this is our last Wednesday, at least our last week where we’ll play two games. So to me they had more reasons not to show up focused today. They won last night, sometimes you have a tendency to look to the weekends just as a kid in general and especially when you get to play on Friday nights. That’s as exciting as it gets, I feel. But they were locked in and that was a byproduct of that. It allowed us to joystick some guys around on the mound and later in the game. I will say, we needed to play a more complete game, but you’re not always going to put runs on the board. They have good arms. They’re well coached and our guys made a couple baserunning mistakes that popped up. It was encouraging to see we came out the gates like that two days in a row if you look at that.”
On what he’s liked most about AJ Russell
“That’s a good question because we think— he’s a confident kid but there’s no way he’s more confident in himself than the coaching staff is. We believe in him a lot. And obviously when you recruit somebody you think that but there’s a time frame between when you commit to a school and when you actually end up at the school. Of course there’s a signing period in there too, but nowadays you know how early some of these baseball guys are committing. He wasn’t that young but that period in between there, he got real good. When you get with Frank (Anderson) and Q(uentin Eberhardt), and Woody is a big part of what we do with our pitchers too in the training room. You should get better and he has. So it’s exciting more than anything to see how well he’s doing and then also Christian Moore, Frank and I were in the corner of the dugout talking, like he’s just kind of knocking on the door of what he can do in the long run. We’ll respect the fact that he’s a freshman and has some time but pretty exciting. I don’t even know if that answers your question but pretty exciting.”
On if he envisions Russell getting innings in SEC play
“I think so. I wouldn’t say we’re lost but we’re searching a little bit to put pieces of a puzzle in the right spot. I think we have a lot of puzzle pieces if we’re going to roll with that analogy and it can make a complete picture with but where each guy goes is going to require a little bit of a tetris type effort if we can play off that a little bit. It will be interesting. I think he’s shown he can finish a game because he gets strikes. He can start a game because he’s kind of been trained to be a starter for us and anything in between, which he’s already done once, we’re confident in as well. What guys are going to do a little bit better than him or where we decided he’s best suited for the team, we’ll see.”
On Blake Burke adjusting to hitting in the middle of the lineup
“Yeah, certain guys kind of sense it. Manny Ramirez was one of those guys when he was playing. Certain hitters kind of sense an opportunity where they can get an RBI. I think Blake has the benefit of the guy hitting behind him is like that as well. He is also a proven and experienced hitter. I don’t fault the strategy of the walk there. I would have done the same thing with Blake, but it’s nice to have two guys like that who kind of sniff out the RBIs a little bit. If you’re going to go into the whole Blake Burke conversation in general – anyone can size up his swing and know it’s a good swing. He came into this school with ability and of course he works really hard in here. If you were with him in the dugout last year, you kind of saw the pride he had about his work, how much he wanted to win and how good of a teammate he is. You mix all that together and – you can’t predict the future – but you know he’s going to be a good player for us. A good presence, not just in the lineup, but he’s done that defensively too.”
On when he knew Blake Burke would be this good
“Coach [Josh] Elander first saw him in a Team USA event – which means you’re already pulled into a pretty talented group. He’s not without skill or success in the past, but Maui [Ahuna], Blake and a few others were chatting with myself and it’s like, it’s interesting to follow the groups of guys who go to these area code, select events of McDonald All-American type thing. Some guys continue down the path – which is what you guys are writing about – if he’s in the McDonald’s All-American Game then he’s going to be pretty dang good. It doesn’t always work out that way – especially in baseball. There’s so many moving parts. He has really elevated his game from them. I don’t know when it would have hit us, but there was a lot of positivity coming out of that caches office last year after observing him. You knew things were going to be good and he was going to develop in a mature way.”
On what he’s seen from Zane Denton
“I don’t know why we are throwing out McDonalds All-Americans, but on behalf of our team, I can tell you sunken hearts today and last night for Zakai [Zeigler]. That guy kind of embodies what we are trying to do around here. The way he plays, the way he works and the way he carries himself off the field. If I was a Kentucky basketball player, I would not like that guy. He plays with some attitude, plays hard and plays with a chip on his shoulder. But if I was a young kid, a six-year-old, running around the stands in any SEC city – I’d love that guy. He’s just so good off the field. That’s what we are trying to be and that’s what wea re trying to get Zane Denton to be on this campus right here. Pretty sure he was that at Alabama, but we are blessed to have him here. He provides s calming influence on defense over at third. At the plate, we’ve had guys here who really wear their emotions on their sleeve – he’s just kind of Steady Eddie. Here in the cages and out there on the field. To have that right in the middle of your lineup, and at a spot where it’s really hard to find a good defender in college baseball, it’s a notch in our belt.”
On the balance of being aggressive running the bases but no foolish
“I think for us, we harp on and spend a lot time trying to press the buttons for them to be aggressive, so now that we’re in the part of the season where it’s no longer scrimmage season, it’s kind of expensive to make those mistakes and will get more expensive as conference comes around. The game will kind of start to correct those, but we have to assist, too, and say, ‘Hey, here are the lessons we’re pushing.” Sometimes we do first to third and you’re supposed to go no matter what in scrimmages. Ball in the dirt, be really aggressive.
“We’ve got to reign some guys in. If you look at it from our perspective, you’d rather have guys being too aggressive and have to calm them down rather than vice versa, but we have to start playing ball like it’s baseball because that’s definitely what we’re right in the thick of. What are we at 10 games now? Our first block of 10 games, so it’s time to just play ball. You try and swing at strikes and take balls, and you try to get to the next base safely when you’re on offense and it’s really that simple.”
On what he’s seen from Hunter Ensley so far this season
“He’s doing the best he can with what he’s being provided and I think any kid out there who has the excuse of ‘I need to get in a rhythm and I haven’t played everyday,’ you can use foul language to describe that mentality, but it is a lot easier to come to the park everyday and be in the lineup and rack up a bunch of at-bats and things like that. He’s kind of caught in the middle of that and when he’s been out there for the most part, he’s done really well. What he needs to understand and what most kids need to understand is that it’s not necessarily what you do, but how you do it. You’re going to strike out in this game. You’re going — Reese Chapman for instance tonight. As a young freshman — I don’t think he’d be like this — but he might go back to the dorm saying, ‘Man, I had a chance to get a hit, I didn’t get a hit.’ Well, he dang near drove that thing out of the park and he looked really good in the box doing so. For us, we’re watching more about how he goes about it and Hunter Ensley has gone about his business pretty well. Almost had what would be to date the biggest hit of the year. Unfortunately Arizona has a really good defensive third baseman.”
On how close LHP Wyatt Evans (arm) and RHP Camden Sewell (arm) are to being able to pitch in a game
“To a point to where it’s almost getting silly, the back-and-forth between me and Camden. Much sooner than later for him. Wyatt has finally got in a deal where it’s no longer two steps forward, one step back. It was official timeout just to be honest with y’all and then okay, let’s ramp it up and get that progression. So, a little bit more steady is the race for him and Camden, we’ve officially reached the point where he could throw this weekend if we want him to and we’ll just talk as coaches and kind of just figure it out.
“You guys were just talking to big man (Zach) Joyce, it’s a good problem to have some depth. We’re searching for ways to get guys out there to the point to the point to where you all are probably cussing me because I go out there to make a change in a weird way, but it’s to try and get guys involved. Again, no stone left unturned going into conference play.”