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Everything Tony Vitello Said After the Vols Clinched the Series Against Missouri

Head Coach Tony Vitello and the Tennessee Volunteers before the game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media following the Vols’ 3-2 series-clinching win over Missouri on Friday night.

It was an ugly, low-scoring win by Tennessee led by elite pitching from Drew Beam and Kirby Connell along with one of the best nights defensively the Vols have had all season.

Vitello discussed a wide range of topics with the media after the game, including Drew Beam’s great start, Kirby Connell and Aaron Combs’ relief performances, how crucial the defense was and more.

More From RTI: Elite Pitching, Defense Lead Vols to Series-Clinching Win Over Missouri

See everything Vitello said after the win below.

On the great pitching from Drew Beam, Kirby Connell and Aaron Combs:

“They were great, and I think the defense behind them was equal to the task. And obviously Kirby [Connell] contributed to that defense, and [Aaron] Combs attempted to. He’s one of our better guys when we mess around with that stuff for fun or we get intent in practice with the pitcher’s fielding practice. But that’s a tough one. The crowd is amped up, and you’re trying to pick up the ball and either tag the runner or the base at the same time. So, it’s squirrely, and I think it says a lot about his composure. He’s got some adrenaline to him with the walk-out song and all that stuff, but to calm yourself with the fans on their feet, I mean it was pretty fun there at the end. There were some dead moments in the game, and there were some moments in the game where the crowd was as rowdy as it gets, at least the ones that aren’t at the Tim McGraw concert. So, to kind of compose himself and get back up there I think is big. And again, to throw the last out of the game, Kirby has done that, and we’re starting to stack up some guys that can do that for us.”

On why Combs came in to get the final out:

“Just because we kind of had mapped it out. Drew is a tough one, because he is going to fight you for the ball, and then he is going to be the boy next door three seconds later and be the best teammate in the world and cordial. So, it’s a delicate balance. And also he’s our guy, so you look smart for leaving him in against Alabama when it’s not going well but other moments, too, because he knows how to navigate his way through a game. But if we would’ve stuck with the original plan, or the ole ‘go with your gut,’ or what we had talked about in that corner, maybe they don’t score any runs. So that occasion was not [me being] a fan of two nights in a row having to go out there with two outs and having to make a change for the last out, but it was kind of what we had mapped out for the rest of the game. And rather than have regrets, we went with it, and I think everyone standing here knows Kirby’s capable of getting that guy out. But he’s a really good hitter, and Combs is capable of getting him out, too. He just couldn’t put a pitchfork in that ball.”

On if this is one of the better nights they’ve had defensively:

“Yeah, KT’s (Kavares Tears) double play was crazy. Dean [Curley] turned into Michael Jordan or maybe Dalton Knecht there for a minute. Cal [Stark] with another great play and a good job on a pop-up. It was a good night defensively, and I don’t know if there’s been any better but regardless, I think this is a staple win defensively leading the way. Last night, the bats kind of led the way, and you talk about – I think you all led the conversation last night about – how many different ways can your team win? And you are going to have to do that. You may play in different parks, different set of circumstances, a night like tonight where [you’re facing] a really good arm with [Logan] Lunceford (Missouri starting pitcher), but, I mean, I would like to think that he’d admit that he was on. I was standing there like, ‘How do we crack this code?’ He had all three pitches going really well, mixing, our guys off-balance a little bit, and based off of our pre-game, I was kind of complacent to be honest with you. I thought we were going to rock-n-roll. But he put a stop to that in a hurry with how good he was. We’re going to have to win games like that, where an SEC weekend type starter – and it could be another league – is in his groove, and you don’t have to win pretty, you just have to win ugly.”

On if Tennessee’s defense is underrated:

“I think a little bit and maybe that came with the start of the year and doubts from the coaching staff. One thing we felt good about is we had depth offensively and we did have a lot of guys that were interchangeable at different positions. You guys talked a lot about who’s going to play this spot or that spot in particular on defense. We’re like, ‘I don’t know but there’s good options.’ But we didn’t feel like defense and pitching we’re here to brag about it even though we want that to be our strengths. And Coach Anderson does such a good job with our pitchers it’s become a strength. Glad we won the game tonight, he (Anderson) has family stuff he’s attending to— relative a little bit ill and it’s good he puts family first and goes and does that, so we’re all thinking and praying about him and i know Drew (Beam) said he’s going to get it done in honor of Frank so that’s been the pitching piece but defensively I think guys have worked hard to prove they’re capable of playing their position. You only get one DH out there and if you are the DH you want to know you can play DH on the next given day.”

On where Drew Beam can take the next step in his game:

“I think he’s established himself to be able to throw four pitches for a strike and at this point just not trying to get too cute. I don’t know if he airmailed one on purpose or not and he kind of giggled about it. I’ve just seen it and next pitch didn’t go well. I don’t think he has to get too creative or too crafty at this point. I think he is— basically the brand he has brought to the table is a strong one and it’s good enough. So he just needs to be himself. Similar to a good hitter on our team could go up-and-down the lineup, they don’t need to go outside themselves. He just needs to be himself and when he is, he is pretty good for us.”

On Cal Stark’s defense, getting out of the fourth inning with a pickoff:

“That’s huge because the momentum is on their side a little bit and you’re looking to get an out any way you can and he’s done it in other situations too. You’re hustling to get to 27 outs as quick as you can so you’ll take them any way you can but yeah to get out of a jam like that, it relieves some stress on the pitcher. It may carry some momentum into the next inning as well mentally for both of those guys that are making up the battery. So we’re very very blessed. You talk about defense, the one thing we are quick to point out and I guess me when we are answering your guys questions was that catching trio is pretty dang good.”

On if the pickoff is called from the dugout or if Stark decided it spontaneously:

“No that was on him and Blake Burke working together and sometimes it’ll come from the dugout but for him to have the confidence to do that in any situation takes work and it takes just that— confidence. And he has it. If we don’t have him in the game he’s the best cheerleader we’ve got, and when we do have him in the game we ask him to bunt and he’s fully confident. He can swing the bat and if we ask him to take a pitch and basically try to get on base for CMo in that last at-bat. Well he got on base by driving the ball, I hope, off the top of the fence.”

On Tony Vitello winning his 100th SEC game on Thursday:

“The team did, yes. Kind of the same deal with the Blake Burke thing. I didn’t know much about it until after the fact. I guess to sound really corny, Mike Ditka says the cowards live in the past. We are trying to win tonight. [Question on how win 101 was] Ugly. Like, I could have done a much better job and maybe I’m not the only one. When you got guys like Drew Beam, they make you look smart. Again, I think we could have left him out there to end the game. He is in good enough shape to do that. We feel confident enough in guys like Ariel [Antigua] going to short and we feel good about Dean [Curley] playing short too. That bullpen is ready to rock and roll. I think where our focus is, and I’m kind of joking and being a smart aleck. It’s nice when there’s accomplishments along the way that you hit, but I think the team is highly ambitious and we are just looking to be the best versions of ourselves. In pursuit of doing that, we have kind of opened up this rolodex of ways to win and people we can win with. It’s nice to see that confidence growing. In the fall, it’s always [man], we got a lot depth in pitching and we got a lot of depth in position players. As the season goes along, it’s like [man] that guy is not doing too well. It’s kind of going in the opposite direction as it usually goes. It’s like [man], this guy is pretty good in the bullpen and we can sue him here. This guy is showing he can start and different ways position players are showing, too. Colby Backus – all of a sudden we have a new weapon. It’s nice it’s growing instead of shrinking.”

On Blake Burke’s bat breaking:

“Yeah, little scary there. We had a bat fly in our dugout, too. I didn’t know where the baseball was and I was worried about their first baseman and also our base runner getting hit with the thing. That’s rare, but these guys take a million swings, so maybe that has something to do with it. With kind of beating that thing up. He didn’t look too happy about it. I don’t know if it was new or what.”

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