Tennessee baseball is headed on the road for the super regionals for the first time in Tony Vitello’s tenure. The Vols open up their best of three series against Southern Miss at 3 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon at Pete Taylor Field.
Tennessee is eyeing its sixth ever trip to the College World Series and its second in the Vitello era.
Here’s everything Vitello said previewing the Hattiesburg Super Regional Thursday morning.
More From RTI: A Detailed Preview Of Southern Miss Baseball
On how much of an ‘unfinished business’ he sensed from the guys who were on last year’s team
“Yeah, a little bit of ‘let’s do this’ type of phrase or anything that would fall under that umbrella. Maybe a little extra sense of determination, but again, I think this team had kind of formulated its own personality which has started to come out a little bit more. Zane Denton is a good example of that in parallel to what the whole team has done. Just kind of that same theme of let’s keep getting stronger in any area that we can and that starts as an individual. Let your personality come out, maybe get better in an area earlier in the year that you’re struggling with. And then as a a team, keep pushing forward to try and find our best baseball.”
On how the transfer’s personalities are starting to come out
“(Andrew) Lindsey, we knew this right away, he’s going to be true to who he is forever, for himself. It’s one of the things that makes him a strong personality. Just when you’re conversating with him, or in the dugout, of course on the mound as well. It’s an attribute we thought that would be great at the end of games or potentially starting games to see how things would unfold. Sometimes things are kind of out of your hands. It could be a higher power, it could be whatever, but the way the season started to evolve, he ended up in the spot that he did. He’s individually capitalized on it, but the team has benefited from him just doing well, in particular in the role that he’s in and then you can look on down the line. Any of Frank’s (Anderson) guys that they’ve run out there and started to really get comfortable in what they’re doing.
“Maui (Ahuna), it’s just about being on the field. He’s kind of had some knicks and knacks. Griffin (Merritt) has been a leader from day one. He’s just kind of got that mojo and level of maturity about him. You guys probably enjoy interviewing him because he has that level of maturity. That’s been there even before his time here.
“And then Zane (Denton). He had quite an interesting path to get here and then when he got here, just so much adversity and different things that didn’t allow him to get in a rhythm on this campus and right now, I think he’s in as good of a rhythm as possible. I mean, dating Taylor Swift apparently. Something about that on the GroupMe. Sometimes when they get going on the GroupMe and it’s not that important, I don’t pay full attention, but something to that effect.”
On playing at Southern Miss
“You get to this time of year and we’ve seen it whether it be at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, or this last weekend — fortunately I’ve coached long enough, Frank has too. You get to this time of year. No one is not going to be pouring their heart and soul out on to the field. You can come up with whatever set of circumstances you want. For coaches, players, fanbases. Everyone is going to give it their best go. It is a baseball game, so there’s a lot of crazy things that can happen. Really, whatever competitive edge you’re looking for, it’s got to be based off of what your team has become throughout the year and there were teams last year that served as good examples for us now of, maybe the quickest path or the best path from point A to point B isn’t a straight line. And for us, there’s no way it’s been a straight line. I think whether we’re playing in Hoover, Clemson, at home, we finished the year in South Carolina. Our zig-zag path, ups and downs, rollercoaster, whatever it’s been throughout this year — it’s who we are, so stay true to who we are. And who are is a group of guys who are pretty capable when we’re playing our best or close to it. Throwing out the word best is ironic because I don’t think we’ve necessarily found that yet, especially over the course of a complete weekend.”
On Southern Miss starter Tanner Hall
“He takes advantage of hitters who are overzealous. Really preys on hitters who are overzealous. We go back to the point of everyone wants to give it their best, well it’s important to define what that is. Because try-hard isn’t necessarily your best and he doesn’t have a lot of try-hard in him, but if you’ve got a hitter in the box who is a little over-zealous, he takes advantage of them. And then he’s looking for you to beat the ball into the ground. His stuff matches up with that approach and it’s worked well for him to get ground balls, in particular against Samford in the regional outing he had. I know he came back and threw again on Monday, but that game in particular. It takes two to tango. He could face a hitter that’s either really talented or has the perfect approach, but he’s good enough to get guys out Mano e Mano as well. And then as we try to get our pitchers to understand, especially when they’re freshman. There’s other things besides pitching you gotta be well-rounded by getting in a rhythm on the mound, defending your position, holding on runners and he’s really well-rounded at all of those things that you could define as extra. But as a coach, you throw them all in the same hat of being a pitcher.”
On Griffin Merritt comments after Florida game three where he said Tennessee would be a tough out in the regional
“I think it helped. As a coach, you want to put up the caution sign. I think the concept is dead on. What he might of said, I think, is Hoover because Hoover can be a really lengthy tournament if you advance. It didn’t work out so well. As a matter of fact, he talked at his postgame presser at the regional about how he wished we could have been in Hoover for longer because it was his only SEC Tournament. But the concept that he brought up did hold true in a regional. I think what he was getting at our guys really believe in themselves and what they are capable of doing when they have their best approach at the field. What the backbone of that confidence is the pitching staff. If we have to go deep into a game or it’s an extra inning game, or we have to rely on this guy to get us 100 pitches – like [Chase] Burns’ case – there’s guys who can do that.”
On if he notices any Southern Miss weaknesses
“Coach [Scott] Berry covers those up. It’s why he is who he is. That program has been very well known in the baseball world for a while. The park tends to play a little offensive, so they’ve always had good offenses. If you watch the way they ae done things since he’s been there, there’s a well-rounded offense. It all stems from guys being competitive. You have a group of guys – and when you get to this time of the year, you can say it about anybody – there’s older guys who have experience before and they are hungry to get to whatever the next thing is in the playoffs. that’s what is going on there. The pitching staff, heck we saw one of their guys who was a part of a great pitching staff last year in [Florida pitcher Hurston Waldrep] and even though he is not a part of it there, there’s more. They’ve got a closer that’s done well for them. We haven’t really ever declared a closer, but again we can go back to that Burns example, you got a starter who is coming out of the bullpen and he’s able to give you 100 pitches. [Justin] Storm has done the same for them and [tanner] hall is leading the way for them. Pretty good club. If I wasn’t fortunate enough to be standing here talking about this weekend, which we are, you could rattle off any of the teams who are still alive and it’s going to be the case for all of them.”
On Blake Burke looking more like himself
“Luke Bonfield, who I coached and is a part of our staff, he basically predicted a base hit for Burke on a swing-and-miss and the beginning of the at-bat. Just based off the position he was in when he had that swing-and-miss. It’s great to see it happen, but if you are going to practice what you preach, what you are looking for is approach and kind of how a guy is going about things as opposed to what he does. A guy could smash a ball and a guy could make a diving catch in centerfield. If you just look at the position he’s been in, his takes and swings or when he fouls a pitch off, he’s been completely different than it had been in the weeks prior. That’s where you get confidence when you’re sitting watching as a coach or it’s encouraging even if he doesn’t get a good outcome out of the at-bat. I don’t know if he sees that when he watches video or feels that right now, but that’s what is going on. It falls into the category of him being himself in the box. You guys have asked about him in good times and bad times. It’s a great swing – a gorgeous swing. So, why not use it? He did that down there.”
On the strong defense at Clemson, if he’s ever surprised by plays Maui Ahuna makes
“No and I think he made a play that gets lost because we had a decent advantage over Charlotte in game one. Hollis (Fanning) is on the mound, it’s the ninth inning and any team is going to try and give it the last hoorah or whatever it might be. He made a play up the middle that he kind of made look easy but was a huge play. And you could talk about the double play, but when he’s hooked up in a manner of— (Vanderbilt’s Enrique) Bradfield and him know each other from last summer with USA and everyone knows how quick Bradfield is. He makes that play because of the intent is there and baseball is a game of a lot of repetitions. As a hitter you have to hit and you may strike out, you may get out and then you have to go play defense seconds later and you may be required to make one of those plays so one thing for Maui just in this example since you brought him up and the others too is they don’t have room not to be hooked up and CMo (Christian Moore) is a guy when he’s kind of ‘will to win CMo’ he’s pretty special and this time of year I full expect the opponent to be doing that as well. Our guys are a good team and they become better than that when they’re all hooked up on the pitch that’s about to take place and I think that took place last weekend so on the defensive end you saw guys shine through of what they’re capable of doing even on some plays— C-Scott almost makes an unbelievable catch that probably leads to us finishing that game in ninth inning. Jared Dickey throws a guy out at the plate even though all the coaches are yelling ‘no, no, no. Throw the ball to second.’ Time of year kids play. Kind of like no, no, no don’t take me out of the game for a pitcher. It’s kind of fun watching them play and when they’re hooked up, again, it’s a team that can do some things.”
On what Camden Sewell has meant to the program
“A lot. That’s my guy. That’s my guy. You like a kid like Redmond Walsh and the fellow you mentioned [Sewell] and others. They are in the box with the game on the line or have the ball in an important situation. I know this kid’s character; I know his preparation and am good with whatever happens. Good, bad, indifferent, terrible. He is one of those guys. From day one, he’s been a contributor. He’s pitched in the postseason a ton and had success. We don’t win an SEC Tournament without him. He is a joy to be around. He will forever serve as an example of a guy who matured in a lot of different area on the field and off the field. Just the one thing we can’t do is any before and after weight room pictures and show them to recruits. We won’t get any. Trust me, Q [strength coach Quentin Eberhardt] is earning his salary but with that one we have extenuating circumstances. He’s a warrior, so that’s too long of an answer to do in this particular presser.”
On if he’s ever coached anyone who paces as much as Camden Sewell does
“Stephen Creighton is a kid at a different school and he eventually had to be told that he can’t do that anymore. He was a freshman at the time and he eventually cut that out and had a very successful pro career. Another great dude right there. It’s one of the things you like about coaching is these personalities you get to be around and talk about. I think he’s kind of picked it up – there’s other leaders too but I think he kind of sees this in his head appropriately that this is his team. He is one of the older guys and it’s important. He wants to be ready prior to pitching and when he is pitching, he’s moving around all over the place and doing all this extra stuff too. At first it would stress me out, but now I like it. I think it’s a sign of him being hooked up in his intent and a little bit of his swagger, belief and confidence.”