Tennessee baseball entered its weekend series against Vanderbilt desperately needing something good to happen. They got things started the right way Friday night as they used a come from behind performance to knock off the Commodores in extra innings.
The Vols trailed by two in the ninth inning and were down to their final strike when Dylan Dreiling tied the game with a homer. On the mound, Andrew Lindsey, Camden Sewell and Chase Burns were all extremely effective.
Here’s everything Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said after the crucial win.
On the fight his team showed to come back and walk it off
“It was huge. That’s Friday night in our league or sometimes Thursday because of TV. I think the crowd that showed up got a show. I mean first of all, thanks for choosing us over Lizzo. But both teams, you could see guys just grinding away. Those last two pitchers were going to go out on their shield no matter what it felt like. Tremendous defensive plays on on both sides. Guys were trying like crazy at the plate, but the stuff that was coming at them was pretty good tonight from both sides.
“All in all just a great night. I don’t know how you don’t enjoy that. I mean I know it’s difficult, any team could come up on the short end of that, but that kind of right there is what it’s all about if I can use that cliche.”
On how impressive the at-bats from Kavares Tears and Dylan Dreiling in the ninth inning were
“Dylan just handling it as a freshman and getting kind of a late tap on the shoulder, and the way the at-bat’s going, and then the point in the game — it’s incredibly impressive. And then KT, everything in that was — his body of work showed up in that at-bat. He’s worked on staying in his legs more, doing some other things and adjusting. It’s nice when kids get rewarded when they’re determined to put in hours when no one is watching.”
On Griffin Merritt’s walk-off homer after not starting the game
“It’s kind of a lesson for anybody that’s on our team or of course, a bunch of little kids here cheering us on which is awesome. If you know the details there, you have an older guy that, like our team, has high expectations. Like our team, has dealt with frustrations. Then, even in the game as he gets put in, the first two at-bats didn’t exactly go his way. But if you sit down with the kid in the office or talk with him in the cage, and you guys talked with him here so you probably picked up on the vibe. He’s got a great mindset. It’s even-keeled, but also, he’s kind of leaning forward a little bit. He wants to be aggressive towards what he wants to do whether it’s be a good teammate, be a good leader, be a defender, be a good hitter. That was one of about four or five big time highlights for us. Just his effort off the bench and the attitude he maintained.”
On what it was like to see guys celebrating after the big plays
“It’s an opportunity for them to come together. You can preach that, you can say that, you could have a team meeting — which they haven’t had, and ‘hey, we have to rally around one another,’ but you have to play the season. You have to have some things go on. So often, the guys have showed up to the park and the game is going to be your competition everyday. And the game is very challenging. We always talk about our conference in particular, too, is very challenging, so you take it up a notch. Then you talk about all the external things that come with this year. There’s so many it’s insane. When you’re battling those, too, there’s kind of a compound effect. If you just boil it down to, ‘you know what, I gotta be there for the guy next to me, so I don’t have time to get deflated or if I do, the guy next to me helps pick me up, so I have to pick him up the next go around.’
“To me, the big theme of it all is that it’s an opportunity to come together. Because we played a game like this against Boston College who I’m sure is winning a bunch of games at this point and that’s an opportunity to come apart a little bit. When everyone is frustrated with one another. And our guys have been great all year long, but this is something kind of like that fun win against A&M that they can hang their hat on and again, should rally around one another and realize how much they need each other because Griffin, Dylan, KT, (Chase) Burns, really, but who are you going to give the number one star of the game to. Who made a play even though it didn’t show up in the box score. It was a complete team effort on both sides to be honest with you.”
On the decision to go Chase Burns in the middle of an at-bat
“His outing was impressive enough I don’t have words for it, and yet, I’ll stop myself and say he’s capable of that. And about everybody that has seen him throw this year knows that. The stuff has ticked up even a bit from last year. But, to take in stride, ‘Hey, we’re not sure what your role is in Fayetteville, Arkansas,’ and kind of be relaxed and take it in stride and then throw well is one thing. But then tonight, which I hope he didn’t make me look too dumb, but when I just tap him on the shoulder all of a sudden and say, ‘Do you want this or not?’ and he says, ‘Yeah,’ and goes down there, gets ready, pretty much in a hurry, and then comes in in that situation. And [Camden] Sewell, he was kind of teasing me, ‘Don’t you trust me out there?’ And we trust him, but he had dealt with a little bit of a hand issue against Arkansas and it kind of popped up again, so, again, it’s hard not to put the ball in the hand of the guy we did, and overall, the circumstances dictated that I felt.”
On what the biggest difference for Burns coming out of the bullpen has been
“I think he just needed a reset. You could argue a [he had] little better command against Arkansas, at least with the off-speed stuff. Obviously tonight, the crowd helped our entire team, the situation did as well, but it kind of had the vibe of ‘I’m not letting you guys lose,’ and that meant everybody. Everybody that is in the park and everybody in our dugout, so the stuff obviously ticked up a little bit. I’m sure all the guys will talk about how he hit 100, rather than talk about winning the game, but that part was fun. But I think he just needed a reset. If you look at his body of work prior to this, a lot of stuff kind of hit a downward spiral because it’s so frustrating, it kind of mirrors our team. He’s throwing the ball well, throwing the ball well, then we don’t make a play behind him, bad break, a guy does square a ball up… and then it would kind of snowball a little bit. He just needed Coach [Rick] Barnes to call a 20-second timeout and reset and realize there’s still half of the year left, and he could put together a pretty dang good year. And my dad was making a comment about future stuff, I mean the guy has got as bright of a future as you could imagine.”
On Burns’ emotion on the mound
“Yeah, John [Wilkerson] mentioned that, and I was like, ‘John, there was a little bit of that in Arkansas,’ and it kind of showed a little bit more [tonight], and maybe it’s easier to do that out of the bullpen than a starting role. But at the same time, he’s evolving and coming out of his shell. That foundation of his college career and career in general of what went on last year is never going anywhere. He was very mature. He got a ton of great experience. He was a good teammate. He led to a season that was something that everyone was proud of, and he was a big part of that. And now it’s about building off of that. And sometimes as you move forward, sometimes it’s like a guy that gets stronger as a hitter, and there’s other ways to look at it, too. A kid that’s growing into his body… I think he’s growing into his stuff and growing into his career a little bit this year. Again, it takes two to tango, some guys have been fired up to hit him and done it well. There’s times we could’ve been better behind him, some quirky circumstances, but the guy, at the end of the day, is one that you want with the ball in his hand with the game on the line.”
On how good it was to see toughness of the team tonight
“It was very encouraging. You can measure it by that. If you’re going measure toughness and they are going to do it in the locker room based off results, there’s a lot of roller coaster stuff. It’s been a little bit too much of a theme this year in being a roller coaster. I think the toughness in this game and what we needed stemmed from Andrew Lindsey. Not that he wasn’t good last weekend, but the stat sheet was good and he had 10 strikeouts. But just the courage he pitched with – and that was coach [Frank] Anderson’s word. He gave us courage and it kind of disseminated throughout the dugout and I think it bled onto the field. He set the tone with just the way he competed.”
On getting a fresh start during the back half of SEC play
“It does a lot. It gives the guys something to rally behind and realize that there is a lot of ball left to be played. Then it gets you started off on the right foot. So often we’ve talked – us as a group – how the weekend goes and all that. Well, it’s become a little bit of result-based confidence, which is what I was alluding to. It will lead you to a roller coaster. But, everybody – I don’t care if it’s Kobe – everyone is a little bit of a results based confidence. If things go well, it’s a little bit more positive about coming to the park and realizing what you are capable of doing as a group. It helps. At the end of the day, these guys should know fully well what they are capable of and what their best attitude and what their best approach is. No one else should be able to interfere.”