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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee ‘Grinds’ Out Series Opening Win Over Gonzaga

Tony Vitello Tennessee Notre Dame
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee baseball earned a series opening win over Gonzaga 8-2 on a windy Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

It was a pitcher’s duel for most of the evening as Chase Dollander and Owen Wild both reached double-digit strikeouts on the afternoon.

Tennessee opened the game up with a massive sixth inning but head coach Tony Vitello didn’t believe the final score was a proper indication of the game’s competitiveness.

Here’s everything Vitello said following his 200th win at Tennessee.

On Chase Dollander’s performance

“It was a good Friday win. You’ve got two guys that in my opinion have major league stuff going at it. That’s what we’re going to have in our league. That’s what we had down at Arizona. It’s just typically what you have on Friday night across the land in college baseball. It was a war of attrition and fortunately he came out of the game as a winner because of the way he worked out of some of those jams. By nature of throwing strikes and facing good hitters, you’re going to give up some hits. But it was kind of a bend, don’t break type of deal, or more on the side of just a gutty effort. When he had to reach down deep he did and he got out of those things and it kind of set the town for our guys and they fed off of it a little bit. In some of our at-bats. Not that they were poor at the beginning of the game, but our guys realized they were in a dog fight with what was going on with (Owen) Wild. They kind of ramped up the competitiveness and that’s what you have to do when the challenge is on the table. You either wilt or you ramp it up and I’m not so sure there wasn’t a few occasions in Arizona where guys kind of wilted. Tonight, even though if you’re at home, it’s like, ‘man, that at-bat was no good’ or a guy struck out. I didn’t have that feeling and it made me feel good about the team and the direction we’re going.”

On the weather throughout the game

“The weather was wild. No pun intended. I didn’t know if we were going to play or not. It was so difficult that first year in my role being weatherman. I spent so much time on that and then Mr. Haslem kicks in and the school helps finish this project for us and it’s been a godsend for us. Tonight might be the biggest night ever. Not because of how wet it got, but because we never have any worries. We just always feel like we’re going to play. That’s our guy’s mindset. Having to watch the wind was interesting. The umpires even said it at home plate. They’ve never been in charge of wind. It’s always been lightning or rain. They said at home plate they may have to call this at some point if it turns into a circus out here.”

On Gonzaga starting RHP Owen Wild

“He’s good. I don’t like him. When you watch on TV or you watch from the side, there’s a guy named Biddle who pitched in the SEC a long time ago. I got the scouting report on him from Gary Henderson who is a coaching legend in college baseball and Gary said, ‘listen, you’re going to watch your guys swing at balls that they should not be swinging at and you’re going to get angry with them. Don’t get angry with them because I’ve sat behind home plate and I see what it looks like.’ So, tonight was an example of that. You could easily say, ‘what are you swinging at?’ But our guys were talking in the dugout and they were talking about how good the changeup was. So you’ve got a fastball that’s taking off on ya and playing more firm than maybe the radar gun says. And he was even 90-94, but it’s playing more firm and riding on ya. Yet you’ve got a changeup that is really deceptive and it’s going down. So as a hitter it’s no easy challenge and he was also hitting his spots. You could see — talking about rising to a challenge — you could see he wanted to match (Dollander) and he wanted to come in here and throw well on the road. It’s a team that the record will even out just fine for them by the end of the year. For a lot of reasons I think he and their team had a little extra edge to them and it made for a hell of a battle for most of that game. No doubt. All the way to the end if you look at it.”

On the importance of pushing Wild from the game in the sixth

“It was a relief for my heart rate, and then also when those two guys (Dollander and Wild) came out of the game you felt like it was going to be tied. To have any kind of edge when they both came out of the game was great for Do to experience but more importantly for our team I think it had us in a good position. You like to think you can win at home if you can come out of that duel that was going on with a little bit of a lead and we did so it was nice to add onto it at the time that he came out.”

On what led to Tennessee starting to figure Wild out

“I don’t necessarily know that anyone figured him out. I know that’s contradictory because a couple guys hit the ball out of the park but CMo’s at-bat could have gone either way. He could have struck out, he could have walked and he just kind of had a little extra to him that at-bat and that competitiveness ramped up. I think he fed off of Do, but also he’s that type of guy, I think Maui is like this, Blake is definitely like it— they want it more difficult. You can say that as a coach all you want, ‘hey you have to want a challenge’ or ‘the best wins are the tough ones’ but not everyone is built like that. He is and that’s what came of it, and then Blake showed what he did in the 12-pitch at-bat and then Zane Denton who probably if you made him take a lie detector test he probably was like I’d like to get a home run. I’m capable of hitting a lot of them and now that that first one is out of the way they’ll come in bunches for him and he’ll hit a bunch when it’s really important and one of them was tonight. It was really important and he went the other way which he hasn’t done a lot left-handed for us, and again, it was in that at-bat you kind of sensed the cleats were in the turf a little bit more and there was a little bit more grind to it.”

On earning his 200th win at Tennessee

“(That) You just have to listen to John Wilkerson talk about it because I did the radio first and he’s mister stat rat so it’s nice, something to maybe reflect on later but I told him and I’ll just copy the answers. If we’re happy about anything as a coaching staff as a whole, we first recognize we haven’t even sniffed what Coach Delmonico’s done here which is arguably the best coach here. At the very least a Tennessee legend. Pretty damn proud this group has stuck together. There’s been a lot of under the table offers and over the table offers. Different things coming up and I think we’re all loyal to this university. I think we’re loyal to Knoxville. I think we love working for each other, and I think the kids like being around the whole group because if it’s not a happy marriage the kids can smell that out as well as anybody. Really proud of that and I told him, if we’re going to single out a win I kind of like this one so far as much as any this year because it kind of had that gut, grind it out deal. And then it spiraled into a big inning but really it was all about, scoreboard you can throw away, this was a very small margin for error game or a very small difference between us and Gonzaga tonight and it was kind of that extra grit.”

On Christian Moore taking over a new role like Blake Burke is

“They’re both gifted, and I just lump them into the same category. They both, if you could look into the future a little bit, they both were so competitive in the dugout and learning and observing in the dugout so much. You knew they were going to play like that, and also it was going to pay off. You can sit in the dugout for 300 games and not learn a thing, or you can be much wiser, 300 games wiser, because you’re locked into what’s going on. That’s what those guys were. And then the other thing, baseball, you got nine innings, there’s some time even though we got the pitch clock, there’s time, and your thoughts kind of wonder, at least mine do… there’s a lot of Luc Lipcius in Blake Burke. There’s some differences, too. That guy (Luc) coached him up, and whenever he (Burke) makes it to the big leagues, he needs to make sure Luc’s there for his debut. And Christian Moore needs to do the same thing for all three of those infielders. Because they all took him under their wing, and helped educate him on how it’s going to go at this level, what he needs to do better, and if anyone has gone from one point to a very distant point on that roster right now, it’s Christian. He’s developed physically, but defensively, in particular, and then just maturity. He’s much more even-keeled and approaches things. He’s come along as much as anybody, and I really think, again, kudos to our coaching staff, but I think that trio of infielders, especially Trey Lipscomb, they deserve to go to his major league debut. They might be playing against each other, though, I hope.”

On the new pitch clock rules

“That was the first one where we had signs involved. As long as the hitter is ready and looking at the pitcher, I’m good with speeding it up. I think if you had asked me that before and we were not recording this, I would’ve said ‘Man, this could get a little wild. It’s been okay. I don’t know what the times are of the game. And then the umpires, they’re being instructed, ‘Just enforce it.’ They don’t have room for, ‘This is a big situation,’ or not a big situation, or ‘It kinda looks like there’s one second left.’… Just enforce it. And they’ve been pretty consistent. So, all we are doing when we chirp from our dugout is we’re defending our hitters; we just want them to be ready. We haven’t had many issues from the pitching standpoint. Drew Beam had a ball on him, and Halvy had a ball on him, because at Arizona, they seemed to be really quick on the clock. Players across America are just going to have to get a little used to it, and as they will, I think it will kind of subside a little bit and kind of be more in the background. You might have, over the course of a weekend, a ball for a pitcher or a strike for a hitter pop up here and there, but by now, everyone knows the rules, and you need to start adapting to them a little bit.”

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