Tennessee baseball clinched its weekend series against Vanderbilt Saturday, eviscerating the Commodores for a 17-1 run-rule victory at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Vols’ offense exploded with nine runs, all with two outs, in the first inning and Chase Dollander worked through early trouble to turn in his best start of the season.
Vitello discussed Dollander’s outing, what this weekend can mean for his team moving forward and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said about the Vols’ series clinching win.
On what led to the offensive outburst, hitting well with runners on base
“The way you first framed it, I just wanted to get excited and say the vibe. That’s something you want to come to work to everyday, and obviously you can’t recreate or have happen what happened last night too often. Just the crowd, the theatrics, everything that went with it, but you can make the choice to come to the park the way the guys did today. So, that initiated it, but more specific to your question about situational hitting… guys just had better team at-bats. That’s a little cliché or general, but you saw guys with two strikes just putting the ball in play or fouling off a tough pitch, guys not swinging too big early in the count or in an advantage count like maybe have in the past, hit-by-pitch, say from talking about Blake Burke’s but, standing their ground or staying in a good hitting position during the course of the pitch. Again, all those fall under the umbrella of they were just better team ABs, and it’s not like we don’t have a bunch of team guys, but sometimes you can get lost in trying to please others or do things or meet expectations in the box rather than, just win the next pitch for your team.”
On what led to the team playing better situational baseball
“I think it’s been a gradual process in every category you can talk about with our team, and it’s hard to say that because everybody is excited about the last two games. And then if you reflect on the two games before that, you’d be way down. But still, we see some areas where we are starting to figure out who’s what, get a more consistent kind of approach from each guy and performance even, so we’re making progress. And at the end of the day, that’s what you got to do no matter how old your team is or how your team is made up, but we’re making progress.”
On Christian Moore’s ejection
“So the explanation was, after they talked about it for a while, that they needed to take action for whatever had gone down. I saw most of it. I was going out there to make sure CMo (Christian Moore) wasn’t going to do anything he wasn’t supposed to do. And actually, I talked to him and told him we were going to bring in somebody else, which he wasn’t happy about, but then after that, there was a decision to eject him which means he will not be available tomorrow. But what led up to it was their guy running the bases hard regardless of the score and our guy getting over to cover first base in Doe (Chase Dollander), and I don’t know what Doe said about it, but there was contact. But it was, I don’t want to say incidental, but it was two guys playing baseball, man. So, I’ll acknowledge the fact that CMo has got a lot of passion, and I’d rather have guys with passion than without. I also will acknowledge the fact that he has got his teammates back. I think that was the intent of what he was doing, but I also think the situation––with all due respect to the team we played and the scoreboard––it wasn’t necessary.
“But, it might be a good thing. A guy gets an opportunity tomorrow. I don’t know who it is, but there’s a lot of guys over there itching to get out there and play, and at the very least somebody, and it’ll probably be somebody young, again sticking with that theme, will get that opportunity.”
On Chase Dollander getting out of second inning, getting through seven innings
“I don’t have a good answer. I guess, significance was massive. How he did it? I hope he had a good answer for you guys because those were three pretty good hitters he had to face and then there was more danger awaiting if he doesn’t. It was just a really quirky inning. But I think he kind of overcame it’s a good day to hit at the park it feels like for a variety of reasons but he just overcame a lot. I said something really corny but I really like it now, ‘when the tough gets going, Do gets going.’ That’s been his theme this year. Last year, whatever built up the hype going into this year and he had good stuff and all that. Just because he’s got (Jacob) DeGrom’s hair doesn’t mean he’s DeGrom. I don’t know why we had to go with that but the bottom line is this year if he has one thing going for him he’s showed guts a lot this year.”
On what this weekend can mean for the team
“Just in general, starting the second half of SEC play was a little bit refreshing. To have a win that not just this team can hang their hat on but I got all these messages. That will be one that people remember forever and it was awesome. As a player in our dugout you’re kind of yearning for more of that and, again, you can’t duplicate it exactly but you want the crowd to be in it, you want to do something good for your teammates, you want to show some energy and excitement when things go well. When they don’t go well and you’re down it’s like ‘are we going to do anything tonight? Is it coming? Or can we come back from this?’ You have to keep plugging along. There’s a lot of themes there to take and pick up from which I hope our guys will do cause I have said that I think that we’re getting better or making progress but that doesn’t happen on its own or because I say it in an interview. You have to acknowledge what works and what doesn’t and discard the doesn’t and push forward with what works.”
On why this team has pushed forward this weekend
“This crowd here is special. I wish I had— well I do have it on my phone— a text message from a Major League scout asked me about one of our players and I answered. And it’s hard for me in the dugout whether on the road or at home to really know what it’s like so I asked him and he’s been a lot of places and he said top three in about every category you can imagine including the fans just participation. Like just paying attention, applauding, knowing the game and providing our guys with energy. I don’t want to take anything away from our players but it’s been huge. On top of it I think the guys have made a decision, regardless of how tomorrow goes or any other game the rest of the season, they’ve kind of made a decision. Let’s come together as a team and be what we are and call it let it all hang out if you want but again come together as a team and see what we can do.”
On his demeanor in the dugout being different this weekend
“I just think I’ve picked up on some things on how we need to be and maybe I’m at fault for not knowing some things early in the year, but there’s a lot of new faces. I think we made a lineup the other day and I put down a number for how many years the guys either started or started in division one baseball was another category, and then started here at Tennessee, and you know what the numbers are. I use the Rubik’s cube thing — I think that was popular and then it went way out and maybe came back, so you might know what I’m talking about, but trying to get those panels lined up and I think one thing we need is more of a loose energy and the guys have provided that. I’m just trying to make sure myself and the other coaches are doing what we can do to support those guys.”
On how significant of a weekend this is for the program
“I always say SEC, SEC and maybe if you’re not in this conference you hate me, but it’s such a different deal. It really is in so many categories. So, when you take a loss, it can’t be that big of a deal. Now you can’t accept it and you can’t get too frustrated or you’re just going to get beat down like crazy. But to have success in this league or to win one game in this league is a huge, huge deal. Going into each series, you want to win the series and we haven’t been able to do that as often as we like. So that’s my best way of kind of encompassing everything.”
On Maui Ahuna’s performance from the lead-off spot
“I know he didn’t do it to start the game, but he’s done really well at getting on base to initiate the first inning or other innings, but he kind of made his mind up coming to the park before he even saw the batting order. It was a little late where we knew who they were going to start, so we posted the lineup late. But he kind of made a decision to smooth things out and I call it play baseball, but tranquilo. He was jumping all over the place yesterday. Blake Burke, (Kavares Tears), Maui, they have three of as sweet of a left-handed swings as you can imagine when they use that swing they use here in the cage. But when they get all excited or whatever else you want to throw at that negative side, it kind of ruins the swing and today he stuck with it. Fortunately, results came with it as well.”
On Tennessee’s six-game winning streak over Vanderbilt
“To be honest with you, it is a historic program and they’ve done a lot over a long period of time. But in this league, Coach (Dave) Van Horn said it really well to me about recruiting when we had a conversation. You’re going to get some guys and other teams are going to get guys. I can’t imagine football or other recruiting in this league but it’s obviously very competitive for us. You’re going to take some lumps and you’re going to give some lumps. You better be willing to do both or be gone. So, everybody in this league and there’s going to be two new teams eventually and they’ll find out that they’re probably going to be able to deliver some blows and make it even more messy than it already is, but it’s going to go some other team’s way as well.”