Tennessee baseball salvaged its weekend series against Florida Saturday afternoon run-ruling the Gators 14-2 in eight innings.
The Vols opened up an early lead and coasted to the victory as Drew Beam was fantastic on the bump.
Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed the relaxed nature the Vols played with, Beam’s strong outing and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said after the series finale.
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On how good it was to get off to a quick start after the last few days
“It was reminiscent of last weekend and then you kind of felt it — we had to hit in the cages today due to the weather — whether it be in here or out there in the team huddle, you felt it coming. Griffin (Merritt) was one of the first guys I saw today and I don’t know if it was because he got a hit last night or just wanted to win or maybe he sensed he was going to play, but he had that attitude of being very energetic, positive and that’s what we’re searching for. I think by now the guys kind of know what their best personality is. What their worst is. Step one is coming to the park with the one that works and then step two is much more challenging. When the game starts, it’s easy today when we get off to the start that we did, to keep that rolling or maybe even add on to it, but what are you going to do when the moments it doesn’t go so well. Especially at the beginning of a game. I don’t mind saying that because it’s going to happen. There in lies the challenge for this group.”
On going from striking out 18 times in game one to walking 18 times in the series finale
“A little bit of it is that it takes two to tango. But our guys, even their outs today were very competitive. And I think part of it is a group mentality of ‘I just need to do my part’ and then hand the baton off to the next guy opposed to trying to be a superhero in moments. That was one pitfall at times. And then we had a lead. Maybe now that I’m just talking through it, maybe there is a little bit of an extra challenge with this group to staying the course when things don’t go well. You guys ask me if bats get affected when we’re down on the scoreboard and I think the at-bats get affected, but more importantly our dugout. I think these guys need to realize we now have a walk-off win, we have a road win and about as big of a road win as you can have. This group can argue — Florida — that they’re the best team in the league and we beat them. So we’re capable of doing a lot of great things as long as we keep that mentality.”
On Drew Beam’s performance
“I’m always a fan of the composure and he throws strikes. He had a little bit of that attitude that he showed last year when we had some big series that were 1-1 going into game three. It was kind of ‘on my watch, it’s going to have to go down this way. Not any other way.’ Fortunately we made a couple good plays behind him, too. Those three guys that got a chance to play today — Griffin (Merritt) we mentioned, Cal (Stark) and Austen Jaslove — just ask their shortstop (Josh Rivera), it wasn’t easy to make plays on hard hit ground balls and he (Jaslove) did a nice job behind Drew (Beam). Pretty good team effort and obviously Drew was a shining part.”
On Griffin Merritt getting back to himself and being able to add a right-hander power bat to the lineup
“It’s what it was looking like it’s supposed to be. What you want it to be going into the year. Certainly what he wants and there’s a lot of left-handed hitters we have in the lineup regardless of who is pitching, so it means a lot. Probably the biggest thing is just the maturity. It was either last night or the night prior, I’m looking at the scoresheet and it’s a lot of sophomore, freshmen in there. To have someone in there who has as many reps as he does and also just that level-headed mindset — he never thinks he’s beat. He’s always got good information for the other hitters. It just adds stability to the lineup.”
On Tennessee having no base running mistakes this weekend, if that’s a sign of progress
“Yeah, for sure. And I’m not online, but I just kept getting asked about that. Like geez, at LSU we had a guy basically lose his footing on dirt that you can lose your footing on and you can get some crazy hops on that dirt as well. Other than that, I’ve seen a lot of progress. Not just in that area but in outfield defense. Those were kind of the two areas that were painful at the start of the year. I’ve seen nothing but progress in both of those. And starting pitching has been good; sometimes not as good as it can be. Bullpen has been great. There have been a couple blips on the radar screen, but all in all, coming together as a team. There are going to be moments where if you’re you guys, you think the at-bat wasn’t very good or the pitch thrown wasn’t very good. But therein lies baseball. And the challenge for our guys: How well can they bounce back when they occur? But they’re going to occur.”
On Cal Stark’s performance behind the plate for Tennessee
“He did great. He and Drew (Beam) have hooked up a few times, because early in the year, typically him on day three kind of getting a spot start. So maybe the rapport there helps. But Drew was certainly locked in and the spots he was hitting made it easier on him. But ultimately I think Cal’s performance this weekend — because he made the Gold Glove-type catch and got on base for us the other night, took some good swings, then today had a good day at the plate — it’s just kind of energy. I mean, everyone has a different personality to them. You don’t have to bounce around or say stuff if you’re a quiet guy. When you’re in here (Tennessee’s indoor batting cages) and they’re getting loose, you can kind of tell who is excited about being here and who is excited about playing. And he’s kind of had that coming off of him the last few weeks. Even on days when he knows dang well he’s not in the starting lineup. He got what he deserved today, in my opinion.”
On playing loose the first two games of series like they do in game three
“I think each day has a different flavor and maybe there’s a little too much intensity or football mentality going into the series so that’s something to check on for sure. It’s not just the last two games of each series, we have other reps where they have the blueprint for what the personality is. The deal is if we score runs it’s easy to maintain that or pile onto it but if the start doesn’t go too well or there’s some adversity along the way where do you go with it from there. I can try to contribute and throw out phrases but we’re not going to have a team meeting in the middle of a game. That is, if anything comes out of today or if we were to have a Sermon on the Mount tomorrow to celebrate Easter about our team, that would be it. They know what it’s supposed to be coming to the locker room and then going to stretch, then completing pregame and then going into the game or a series. What are you going to do when it’s not ideal the first two, three, four, fifth innings and maybe even later in the game because it’s not going to be ideal at any point. Today wasn’t even ideal. I would have liked to see Camden Sewell throw the ball for the Vols today. We obviously will take the win but it’s not going to be ideal.”
On having Camden Sewell fresh for Sunday but making sure he gets work
“I think he’s going to get plenty of work by the end of the year. That’s a guarantee so it’s more— now that he’s in a groove I will say it was in the back of the mind of our coaching staff of him going almost 70 pitches last Saturday. I don’t think he needs a full week rest from that but we have other guys that are really effective. Coach Anderson met with the staff and he said the one thing about this group that’s different than last year or prior years is we have strength in numbers. We might have strength in numbers as much as anybody we’ve played so far so that’s our true positive but we probably need to start looking with him, and everybody else, one game at a time. What do we have to do this game today to not worry about tomorrow or the next day without worrying about what happened before those games as long as the guys are available.”
On if they have a better idea about Maui Ahuna’s injury
“He was better today. Again, (Austen) Jaslove played really well. We just kind of liked that matchup and situation so he comes out of the game and of course we have confidence in Kendro too. I think in a pinch he could have played today. He took part in all of pregame so I’d assume he’d be ready to go on Tuesday. That’ll be up to us if we see he’s the guy that needs to be out there.”
On if there was anything different about Drew Beam that allowed him to go deeper
“I don’t think so. Being honest I asked Coach A do you think we could have gone longer, too short with Drew the last few outings because going into today he’s basically fresh and we can extend him. I truly feel like he’s gotten what we’ve needed done going into day three. All those days we’ve had loaded ‘pens and just give us what we need. Sometimes we’ll take the ball from him earlier than he wants which is probably the occasion with all of them or we’ll extend him. We could even send him back out there in the eighth but it was a good day for him, and I don’t necessarily think he did anything different. That’s his one big strength— consistency.”