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Everything Tony Vitello Said After the Vols’ Series-Opening Win Over Bowling Green

Photo By Emma Ramsey/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media following the Vols’ 11-1 run-rule series-opening win over Bowling Green in Knoxville on Friday night.

Vitello discussed a wide-range of topics, including AJ Causey’s terrific start, Dean Curley’s impact, Ariel Antigua’s timetable for a return, Billy Amick, and more.

See everything Vitello said following the Vols’ win below.

On Causey’s night and choosing him for Friday:

“I think he was the choice because our hitters ranked him one of the toughest at-bats on the team, a lot of them ranked him the No. 1 toughest at-bat on the team. He’s started before, we knew he was fully capable of starting, but going into that tournament (Shriners Classic) in Dallas, we saw the level of competition that was there and we just wanted to win the first game that was in front of us. So, in order to increase our chances to do so, we kind of really combined him and Russell — the two AJ’s — and it worked out well. And then from there it was where are the next most important innings because it’s probably him, with all due respect to the other guys. And some of those guys are showing they can do some good things for us this year.

There were a lot of reasons why but I think the coolest thing we had was going into a new weekend — he’s a guy that the other players in the locker room are fired up to play behind. Of course, Beam and Russell fit that category, Zander as well but in a short amount of time he’s gotten a lot of respect from our players.”

On if Friday night changes his thinking on how to use Causey moving forward:

“Well I think we could send him back out there in the eighth for sure, but trying to develop younger guys like D Loy, he did a really good job. Hunley, he was going to come in and I think throw better than the last time out but the game gets cut short there. So a little bit of it was that, but a lot of it was — we know Causey, he’s going to get his fill by the end of the year. I think pacing him out a little bit, he’ll start more games, he’ll probably close a game somewhere, he’ll probably throw in the middle somewhere if this is the type of team that we want it to be.

I think I said it to you all but I definitely said it to the team, Drew beam is the one guy that we really know has kind of solidified himself as a starter here for three years. It’s his biggest strength, it’s a strength of ours coming to the park knowing what we’re going to get. And however many outs he can get us each weekend, everyone else needs to be available at the beginning middle or end of the game to get them for us.”

On recruiting Causey from Jacksonville State despite not great numbers:

“I think it’s a different look and then you start to get to know people. I mean, it happens fast in the summer but you get to know people and the family — it’s a really good family. And then also a good kid who made a good impression. Then you go to a guy like Drew Beam, who knows him really well, and that’s who you can trust, I mean he’s one of us. He knows what we like and what fits and so when he vouches for the guy and becomes a part of the recruiting experience, it really helps.

And same thing with Robin (Villeneuve), I didn’t quite know how to take robin the first time that we saw him. Phone call is tough, in-person is easy you guys have visited with him, but phone is tough with English being his second language. But when Cal Stark leads the way and tells you exactly what you’re going to get, if you get the guy, it really, really helps. It’s slowly getting to be where it was when I was at my first job, I think for me and coach E (Josh Elander), Frank (Anderson), Richard (Jackson), whoever is recruiting the guy — our best recruiters have become our players.

I mean, Reggie Crawford never stepped foot on this campus but he’s been great, he’s been loyal to us. He’s forever a UConn Husky but also a little bit of a Vol. The only reason we got that guy, who’s probably the hottest name in the summer, was our players. He said that on the visit. We basically left him to hangout with the players and that’s what kind of sealed the deal for us. That has to do with Causey as well.”

On Dean Curley’s impact:

“He’s got a good arm. I think more than anything he wants to be out there. He doesn’t necessarily wear it on his sleeve as loud as maybe some other guys that have come through here. But he likes to compete, and he likes to be out there. He’s so strong. He’s kind of like KT (Kavares Tears), and maybe some others I’m leaving out. He’s just got to get it on the barrel, and it’ll go. He’s shown that with his hits so far. They’ve either been extra-base hits inside the park or over the fence, fortunately. And then I guess that strength carries over into the arm. He first committed to a school at a young age as a pitcher. So, that arm strength has always been there. But as he develops as an infielder, feet, glove and arm are all going to be a pretty special combo.”

More From RTI: AJ Causey Dazzles, Amick Homers Twice in Series-Opening Win Over Bowling Green

On if Billy Amick is doing what he expected him to do:

“I just come back to one of my answers in Dallas I don’t think came out the right way when he had his first home run or whatever, but, we had a lot of time in the hotel at Clemson, because you cannot take BP on the field, and we were looking at stuff a bunch, and we did not like him being in that other lineup. So, through scouting, we had really high expectations for what he and several other guys could do in that lineup, and they were so good defensively in the infield. We knew that team well, and they probably knew us well. So, however high you would rate a guy as a threat, we saw him as that. So now for us, you kind of cherish the fact that he’s in our dugout, and you let other people sweat it. And of course, we’re going to run into other versions of him that make us sweat.

“Kind of like tonight, I think a big part of the game – first of all, if you are a big fan of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm fan, you can throw out a, ‘Hello Newman,’ to the guy – although you’d be smart to not make any wise cracks because he will be back in the lineup tomorrow and is their leading hitter because he is such a good athlete. But, the point I am circling around is, I think part of tonight with Billy [Amick] and Dean [Ciurley] and the other hitters was, they saw how good this guy was on video (Bowling Green starting pitcher DJ Newman), and then they saw the award that he won last week for his effort at Memphis. And then what really catches these kids’ eyes, because they like to talk and they like to get on social media, a two-way guy is rare these days. It means you are pretty special and very athletic. So, I think that led into the approach, and they did a good job against him and did some more damage after that, too.”

On AJ Causey’s 1-2-3 inning in the 1st:

“I’m not on the level of these guys, but I was that guy [as a player]. Result-based confidence is a real thing, and sometimes these kids, they’re young, even though we tell them, and they know they’re prepared, they are kind of looking for permission to feel good about themselves. And that’s not necessary when you have put in the amount of work he has. Like, he’s as good as anyone we have in the weight room. Q (Quentin Eberhardt) will answer that question the exact same way I do. And then you talk about how his numbers weren’t that great last year, well he’s the type of kid that is just going to keep getting better and better each year. But at the same time, kid is a key phrase there, and he’s being asked to do something new. So, there’ll be someone else like that, too, and all they can do is trust the work they have put in and the preparation, and if they’ve cheated the game and didn’t prepare, then I don’t know how confident they can be.

“I felt the same way [as a player]. Again, we told our hitters, ‘We’re facing a guy who can pitch in the big leagues or an SEC-level Friday starter,’ – I don’t know if that’s fair to say; I know we like our league and are confident in our league – ‘So we’re going to need to do a good job against him.’ And then AJ Russell, AJ Causey’s first outing, you don’t really know how it’s going to go. And fortunately enough, it went very well.”

On Dylan Loy:

“It’s early, so we’ll see. And we kind of talked in the outfield. I don’t know how cleanly I said it to our players, but there’s a lot of reps. So, it’ll go well for some guys, and then there will be another guy who is our best hitter, and then that guy will maybe struggle a little bit, and then it will kind of go in cycles, and one guy will get his opportunity, or maybe a guy comes out of the lineup, and he has to wait a little bit for his next turn. But this thing kind of goes up and down. But if you go out there and compete the way [Dylan] Loy does, and it’s one of the reasons he had success in high school, you throw every pitch with conviction like that, you kind of tilt the percentages in your favor for it to go well more times than not. The cool thing about him, some other guys we’ve had in this program, in scrimmages he always threw strikes, but he’s one of those guys like a Redmond Walsh and some others we have, it probably goes better in games than it does in scrimmages because of the mentality. Having the right heart rate, having the right confidence, whatever it is. Guys like Sean Hunley, hopefully he’s not listening, he might’ve given up more hits in scrimmages than anyone I’ve ever been around. But I don’t know that I’d be standing here without Sean being a part of the program.”

On timeline of infielder Ariel Antigua’s injury….

“Today was the first day he took pregame in and out with the guys. He’s been more and more active in pregame on the defensive end. He’s been very limited with swinging the bat. When he does come back, swinging the bat, it’s going to take a little more time with that. When he gets in there, it’s probably going to be defense ahead of offense because of the injury. He’s always hit well, but skillset wise, he’s always been good with the glove. Need to get first where he’s swinging and then where he is playing, defense is probably going to be ahead of the offense if I could predict the future. His time will come to step on the field pretty soon which is exciting.”

On if it will be a tough decision when he comes back due to others already playing the field…

“I don’t know why you’d go to negative town. We got a nice win there. The women’s basketball squad won the night before and the night before that, the men’s won. So, I don’t why we need to be negative. [laughs] It’s always good to have options. There’s enough food on the table for everyone to eat I feel like. At the end of the day when our team can go to right field on our field or left field at another park, and you can win – everyone gets better, there’s more chances and there’s more things coming. For him in particular being a freshman, I think he’s going to have a storied career here but it’s starting out a little slower than any of us would have liked.”

On Dalton Knecht and the Tennessee men’s basketball team and the win over Auburn…

“That was a different deal. It took Vol fans to make it happen, but anytime that guy touched the ball there was electricity in the air. I haven’t seen that happen very much. The cool thing was once they adjusted – a lot of our points at the end was when they adjusted and tried to prevent him from scoring and they went to other guys. It’s a fun group. I could go all night and you’d have to cut me off. But it was a special night and Vol fans helped make it happen. That basketball team is a fun one and I think they are built to make a run with the experience that they have.”

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