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What Tony Vitello Said After Western Carolina Game, Previewing Missouri Series

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball took care of business in a midweek bout against Western Carolina on Tuesday night, knocking off the Catamounts 12-4 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Following the win, Vitello discussed the pitching performance of a few bullpen arms, previewed this weekend’s series against Missouri and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: What To Know About Tennessee’s Midweek Win Over Western Carolina

On Colby Backus getting the start and how he did

“He’s earned more than he’s gotten or probably ever will get if you’re basing it on being a teammate, work ethic, overcoming adversity, but really starting today was a reward for his effort. I mean that’s a really good catch he made up against the wall in Lexington, and then a couple of other balls he tracks down because he’s athletic and wants to be out there. And then probably the biggest thing was [they] hit a couple of homers – you know the wind is blowing out – and Kirby [Connell] did an unreal job for us and did exactly what we needed him to do and wanted him to do. Throw strikes and eat up a bunch of innings the way he did, but he gives up a couple of homers over the course of that, and Backus almost took down that center field wall twice. I had to go back and watch it on video. But Stove (Zach Stovall), our video coordinator, said ‘He about ran through that dang wall.’ So that effort earned him tonight, which was a reward to get out there and play, and he certainly took advantage of it. But, he’s going to take advantage of any opportunity he gets, and like I said, he’s earned as many as you can imagine.”

On Marcus Phillips and Andrew Behnke’s performances

“The fact that Marcus [Phillips] was able to accumulate some reps. And now, in the big scheme of things, he’s accumulated some reps, he’s been out there with some consistency as of late. And that’s really what he needs. The stuff is there and the mentality is there when he selects it to be or chooses it to be. But the amount of reps was key. And [Andrew] Behnke, we used him and Billy [Amick] as examples out there of – team-wise, those guys are unbelievable teammates and are going to be as happy as it gets, and Billy had a huge hit there in the mix [in the Kentucky series] – but if you asked them if they both wanted to do better as individuals, and there’s other guys like that, too, they’d say, ‘Yeah.’ So, don’t talk about it, be about it. They certainly were.”

On Dylan Loy’s performance

“He did well. We wanted to go once through the order. The Thursday game – it’s our first Thursday game – they come in a variety of different ways at different times, and it affects things. It’s great to be in our league, and it’s great to have the media exposure, but it’s a little bit of a challenge. So, with Kentucky’s lineup combined with the Thursday game, we’re a little short on options today. We needed guys to do what Dylan Loy did and log some innings. The leadoff hitter is a good hitter, but he only saw one pitch from him. He gets another ground ball [later in the game], but we just didn’t quite make the play. Then the next two guys were lefties he had struck out, and they were going to be his last two guys no matter what. He could have finished at a 45-pitch count and a day he was incredibly happy with, but the good thing is that there is a lot to be happy with and then also some things to learn from there, which is what he’s trying to do overall. I hope he feels good the next couple of days so we can write him down and he’s available this weekend. If not, he’ll be getting the ball again real, real soon.”

On what he knows about Missouri, the challenges they present

“I think it’s a real balanced lineup. Real similar to Kentucky’s. Two switch, two left, a handful of righties is their typical lineup. So a similar look with that balance. They’ve been pitching it well in particular game twos. But overall they’re playing the game the right way.

“(New head coach) Kerrick Jackson replaced me when I left Missouri and he had been doing all kinds of stuff in the baseball world and he’s the new head coach there. Coach (Tim) Jamieson who I played for and I owe a lot to is now the pitching coach and Bryson LeBlanc recruits for them. I recruited Bryson so not only a familiar jersey but familiar faces. Those group chats and things like that I choose to not be a part of because I’m this guy (Tennessee head coach) but there is some communication that goes around and I’m glad that group of people are happy and I’m glad those guys are there as coaches. It may work against us this weekend because like I said they’re playing hard and playing the right way.

“I went on a tangent out there with our guys so longer answer, personally, selfishly I’m glad they’re there. I’m glad that other thing (previous coaching staff) is over with. That was a nightmare. I worked 90 hours a week at that place and I went to school there and gave it about everything— everything I do here, I did there. While that other regime was there, you know, you name it. My dad was in a life threatening car accident and I’m getting yelled at in the third base box. Many other things too. I’m glad that that’s over with and there was a change. 

“So we’ll welcome those guys in here but when the game starts it’ll be just like it was in Lexington or the weekend before against LSU. There’s a lot of respect in this league everybody has for each other, but when the game starts, the game starts.”

On balancing AJ Causey benefitting with an opener in front of him and Chris Stamos struggling as a starter last week

“To be honest with you, I think this weekend is different. Your question makes sense and is an intelligent one and one that I wish we had exact answers for, but I think this is a little different because of the Thursday bump up and how some guys are throwing the ball too. And the one thing that we kind of looked at too and sometimes you think you’re smarter than you are but ….Matchup-wise, kind of matters a little bit too. While we do know a fair amount about Missouri, we haven’t dove into to full speed. It’s not like we haven’t at all, but now that we are deeper into the season – ESPN or anything – you’re going to know about these SEC teams to an extent. Like I said, I’ve got some familiarity as it’s where I’m from. We’ll kind of look at matchups and assess where we are. Stam [Chris Stamos] was hot tonight. He was going to be a safety valve there for a couple of different innings. Fortunately, those guys at the end of the game were really good. Marcus, we already talked about, but Matthew Dallas was outstanding and JJ [Garcia] was just as good, if not better.”

On how difficult it is to manage everything as a first-year head coach in this league

“It’s ahead in general. I think the easiest way to put it in perspective is what if you bounce to just year four? It’s hard. Mississippi, we had great conversations with them and speaking of having respect for that coaching staff. They’ve been around for a long time and done a lot of things, the year after they won the national championship, it was a challenging one. They are all challenging and then we gotta throw in the fact that you’re not as familiar with your personnel for maybe what you like. Everyone is going to inherit decent players, if not very good players, because of our league. Maybe it’s not the setup that fits the way you’re going to coach or the style of offense that you run. So, it shows you how much it complicates it. Even when you’ve been recruiting the same way and been at the same school for 10 years, each year you are looking into SEC play and it’s ‘holy hell.’ You can times it by three, four or five – whatever you think the appropriate math is, but it’s very, very difficult. Like anything, you have to be persistent. Those guys are good dudes there and so are the guys down at Alabama – I know it’s their first year and working through that. It’s a tall, tall task. Not that this wasn’t stressful tonight. We were the Bad News Bears for the top half of an inning. That was high alert, high stress – whatever we had when we weren’t supposed to go outside, orange threat or whatever terrorism. We were on super red or whatever the worst color is every day here that first year.”

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