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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Vols Dominated Morehead State

Tennessee Baseball
Tennessee Baseball. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee Baseball dominated Morehead State 23-4 in game one of a three-game series Friday night. The Vols recorded 18 hits, four of which came from third baseman Zane Denton who hit for the cycle.

Denton became the fifth Vol to hit for the cycle and, along with shortstop Maui Ahuna, were the biggest contributors in the Vols’ 19-run series-opening win over Morehead State.

Tennessee Baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media after the win to share his thoughts on the team’s 12th win of the season.

Everything the Vols’ skipper said is below.

On the decision to start Kavares Tears:

“He was the best practice player the last two days, it was that simple. He’s always working hard, takes a lot of swings in here, but baseball unfortunately requires intent all the time. He did that as well as anybody, if not the best, the last two days, and obviously, we put in a lot of practice following Tuesday’s game.”

On Zane Denton Hitting for the Cycle

“It was pretty cool. The best part was seeing the smile on his face. I just mentioned it to John Wilkerson, he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve quite as much as some of the guys in the past, and Charlie (Taylor’s) like that too. It’s comforting to know that a guy is well prepared, he’s stoic or even-keeled if you want to call it that, but he’s also always competing. Every now and then it is a kid’s game and you’ve got to have some fun. To see him have that huge smile on his face was awesome. In particular, I think he had a little chip on his shoulder from Tuesday. He had a couple of times he could have helped us. I did too. I think we all had a couple of times where we would like to go back and do something different. But Tuesday was Tuesday and tonight’s tonight, and he came with a little edge to him. Normally that’s the way everybody plays their best, when they’ve got that.”

On Zane Denton’s approach this year:

“I think tonight he was aggressive in the right way. Sometimes when you walk or strikeout, there was a pitch earlier in the at-bat that you could have put into play, but you pull off just a little bit or miss it for whatever reason or you over-swing. And tonight, he took some healthy hacks, but he looked really good even on his swing-and-misses. He put the balls in play that he was capable of doing. It was the perfect storm of him getting his pitch and putting his swing to it. Overall, I think he’s benefitted from having good hitters in front of him and behind him, but also just being a little more under control in certain situations so that he can get on base and add that to his resume. Most good hitters have at least two or three ways that they can beat you, but you’re a better hitter if you have five or six ways you can beat somebody. I feel like he’s improved in some areas.”

More From RTI: WATCH: Tony Vitello Talks Zane Denton’s Cycle, Series-Opening Win Over Morehead State

On Maui Ahuna hitting his first home run of the season:

“It was awesome. He’s been close, but he’s also accumulated – I think he’s now sitting at 30 plate appearances or maybe 30 at-bats or something like that. It’s good for him. I’ll tell you what, normally as a coach, you think you’re smarter than you are, but you honestly could kind of see it coming. He’s taken good swings – some of the results haven’t been there – but in the last couple of days his swing has looked really clean and looked really good. I think in combination, he’s not trying to make up for lost time anymore. He’s just getting in the rhythm of playing instead of trying to make up for games lost within one game, and we all know that’s not humanly possible.”

On How Maui Ahuna Has Done in leadoff Spot
“He can run, first of all. He’s a good athlete. If we need him to bunt, he can do different things that way. Based off of his numbers last year, he’s an improved hitter throughout his entire career including high school. He just keeps getting better and better. He’s got good hand-eye coordination, so call it bat-to-ball skills or whatever. But he can hit and run or fight off pitches with two strikes, so he’s got all of the skills to hit anywhere in the top of the order. But it seemed like in scrimmages in the fall, when we would put him in that slot, the productivity was the best. Maybe it’s coincidence, and scrimmages aren’t necessarily games, but that’s what it seemed like. So that was the target at the start of the season. There’s a delay, and once he comes back in, for whatever reason I just felt it was a little easier for him to slide into the middle of the lineup, and then we pick our spot when it was time to put him where he is now. For now, that’s what he is, and like most teams across the country, he may or may not move but there’s going to be some shifting with pitching and hitting.”
On Chase Dollander’s Performance
“Just barely missing a few pitches to that glove side. They looked good; they just weren’t strikes. I guess close only counts in horseshoes and other things, but he righted the ship and got out of the inning. Then we got into a rhythm, it was really fun to watch. That’s a good combination to have. I’ve been around plenty of pitchers that, yeah when they’re in a rhythm, it goes pretty well. Well he’s got great stuff, so when he’s in a rhythm it goes great. But, the most key thing to have is that attribute where if it gets a little dicey, can you reach down with some grit and get after it, and he’s got that element as well. It’s a good combination.”
On How the Team Responded After Tuesday’s Loss
“I think the right way. It might’ve been fortunate there was a gap in games, last game and this game, because anytime something goes poorly or you don’t like how things went, or it’s a downer of any kind, it needs to be a downer. You need to marinate in it a little bit. And maybe, again, it helped that there was some time to do that, and then transition into, ‘Okay, it’s time to prepare for the next task.’ And that’s what we had tonight. Tomorrow’s a new day, this was only one game, and you only get credit for one game in the series, but this game did happen. And Tuesday did happen, and I could go all the way back to Arizona. So you start building up some lessons learned and some history, and they all matter. One thing I mentioned on the Tony Basilio Show when he would let me talk, I slid in a comment, ‘This team, if you pay attention statistically and also emotionally, if that’s the right category, they’ve shown that they respond pretty well.’ Now, it’s nice to win all of your games so you don’t have to respond with a win after that or kind of get a Listerine win tonight, kind of wash the bad taste out of your mouth, but they’ve shown they respond pretty well to date. I hope that trend continues.”
On Zane Denton’s Work Ethic
“I think his work ethic has been outstanding from day one. To me, maybe he feels like he’s putting in more work, I see him being a little more systematic and having a plan. And part of the whole deal might’ve been, hey, you come into a new program, you just want to fit in, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but everyone needs to implement stuff that works for them individually. And as long as it’s within the framework of the team, we’re cool with that, so he’s taken advantage of the resources we have here. At an SEC school, we’re fortunate to have managers and all that, so he gets whatever he wants when he wants to go to work. The nice thing is he’s got a good plan in place, and man it’s a blessing to have kids like him and Griffin and Jared Dickey and Blake Burke, they’re good players, but they also have open ears. They’re willing to improve and listen to what you got for them and get better as opposed to giving you the ‘I got it.’ It’s the worst phrase in the world for us coaches to hear. Or the ‘Look at my stat sheet or what I did last year, I got it figured out, let me go.’ They’re an eager group to learn. And you have to have that in order to peak at the end of the year and play your best baseball at the end of the year. But it goes without saying, tonight was good, but we haven’t played as good of baseball as we need to or we’re capable of, so hopefully the future is bright.”

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