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Everything Tennessee Coach Tony Vitello Said After Vols Swept Missouri

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball completed the weekend sweep of Missouri on Saturday afternoon, knocking off the Tigers 3-2 for the second straight day.

With the win, the Vols improved to 37-7 (15-6 SEC) and have now won 10 of their last 11 conference games.

Following the game, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed winning with pitching, clinching a spot in the SEC Tournament and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Tennessee Baseball’s Pitching Comes Through As Vols Complete Series Sweep Of Missouri

On why he pulled Aaron Combs for Kirby Connell

“That was a tough one. They got the back-to-back switch hitters, and he did well against them last night. So we took that into consideration. The one thing you want with the lead is strikes, and both guys are going to give you that. It was a tough one. Usually Frank [Anderson] or somebody just tells the pitcher we’re making a change, but I went over there and hugged [Aaron] Combs and made sure I put my arms around him to where he couldn’t punch me or anything like that. But that guy is as easy going as it gets unless he is on the mound, which is great. We kind of flipped the roles from last night and I’m not so sure Nate [Snead] couldn’t roll for a little while. I mean he wanted to have a conversation out there and wanted to stay in the game, which is what you want from all of your guys. But, we just kind of pieced it together. Pitching won today, in my opinion. Yesterday was the defense, and Thursday, game one, was the bats. So, if anything, our guys should take a deep breath and realize they won games in a bunch of different ways. And you need reps in these one-run games. We haven’t had a lot of them, so to pile up two right there is stressful, but now that it’s over with, it’s definitely a good experience.”

On why he pulled Nate Snead for Aaron Combs

“Just to get out of a jam. I think he’s done it – he’s done it in a Super Regional with an Omaha trip on the line, 1-1 against Southern Miss – he’s done it in about as many different ways as you can imagine. And I think he’s really throwing the ball right now. He’s as confident as it gets on the mound. He’s got to do an interview with John [Wilkerson] right now, and he didn’t look too confident about that. So, it was a go with your gut thing. And I think the only time we didn’t go with our gut, or the conversations that preceded – Josh [Elander] always has good feedback, and obviously Frank [Anderson] does when he’s present – but the only time we didn’t go with our gut, [we had] major regret. [We] kind of involved it yesterday when talking about our position players and moving guys around, or who’s DH-ing today, [we] have confidence in a mass number of guys. So, we have to go with what we think is the best for the situation, and they just have to trust us. You can make the wrong decision and it go right, and then you can make the right decision and – Danny Corona hit every single ball hard this weekend and then hit a little knubber off of Kirby [Connell], and the next thing you know you are in a hot mess situation.”

On the great pitching this weekend

“That they are well-coached, first of all. But again, to steal from my answer yesterday, the depth is expanding. You got Marcus Phillips and Andrew Behnke who are fresh, and yet they’ve thrown a bunch lately, down there in the bullpen. We trusted them. If something were to go hairy with Kirby [Connell] or, that game kind of had the feel of potential extra innings, you could trust those two guys against righties or lefties, or if the game is on the line, too. A couple of other guys have put themselves in a position where maybe they are now on the active roster and weren’t or they have a pitch developing and can do things like that. So, I think more than anything, for whatever reason, it wasn’t a weekend where a lot of runs were going to be scored. Fortunately our guys had a little bit of explosiveness to them on Thursday, but our guys did what they needed to do to win, and a lot of it had to do with the pitchers doing their deal.”

On the offensive struggles the last two days, more about Tennessee or Missouri

“I mentioned there at the end of the game to (Missouri pitching) Coach Jamieson, I was in my office and they didn’t have their best night pitching on Thursday and I saw him kind of rally the troops and have a good discussion with the pitchers and it’s obvious they’re well coached and the numbers are good. He’s basically a version of Frank Anderson, those guys have a bunch of mutual respect for each other and whatever he said to them worked. They came out and executed very well. (Logan) Lunceford, I haven’t seen every outing, but arguably his best outing in the SEC. Today they have an illness and things get thrown off. Yet the guys handle things the way that they did. Bases loaded situation and I know the fans are like bases loaded one out and we have two of our best guys up and they don’t score. Well part of it was the execution so I think some of our guys had some frustration and some try to hard, not an offensive environment the last two days but a lot of execution out of them. And a part of it is coaching. (Missouri head coach) Kerrick (Jackson) has those guys playing their butts off. But if I could go on a further tangent and represent the old version of me— Coach Jamieson knows what he’s doing. He should be the all time wins leader at Missouri but that got cut off a year early at the very least. You got Tanner Houck and some other guys (coming back the year Missouri fired Jamieson, I’m speaking from a lot of discussions I’ve had. Regardless of what the numbers say, you guys know how I feel about streaks and numbers, he’s the best coach that’s ever coached at that school so a part of it has to do with that.”

On winning in different ways, its importance

“Crucial because what’s coming ahead as things kind of progress and maybe the stakes get a little bit higher, you get to Hoover which we’ve punched our ticket and now fans really want to win and SEC fans are talking trash and all that. What can happen is it can kind of turn into a little league game where parents are yelling like crazy and you can see guys’ forearms when they’re holding the bat or the ball and tension can really arise. The best way to combat that is to take a deep breath and trust what got you there. But an even better way is to kind of have a recipe that you’ve already formulated. I can’t cook worth a crap, my dad can, but you figure out there’s a little too much cinnamon and you take some out. Or too much butter or whatever it might be and you make some adjustments. The fact that we’ve now played in a bunch of different games, I think our guys can kind of do that as we put together our best recipe. Because it’s nice that we’ve won some games, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think the players would say the same thing.”

On if Cal Stark thought about transferring, the improvements he’s made

“He thought about it. Just being overly honest. Some guys don’t have good communication. The best part of every relationship is when you communicate. So, when he reaches out, expresses things, asks questions and does things like that, it gets put into perspective. I think he’s got strong ties here and strong relationships, but deep down what he also has is confidence. I know he is not at our school but one of my favorite individuals I’ve ever met is Archie Manning. I know he’s not his dad but I know he’s in that guy’s life. There isn’t no way that guy was going to leave that school this year. The topic of conversation was I bet that guys is going to leave. No, he’s not. Not if you know who he is and what he’s about. Ultimately Cal sees himself as a guy that if he does what he does, he’s going to play, and I hope people are replacing what he can do. If he does what he does, he’s going to get a pro opportunity regardless of what uniform he’s wearing. So, he might as well wear the uniform he loves.”

On if Cal Stark’s decision was about trust in getting opportunities down the line

“Yeah, that there is an opportunity. And, look, somebody could knock on the office door tomorrow. Well, Sunday, let’s enjoy it. Monday they could come in and have a meeting and say, can you explain to me what I got to do to get in there. Or, how come this guy instead of me. I’m all ofr doing it. When you have a quality team and one you’re confident in, that means there are some guys that can, again, this guy could have gotten it don’t, too. But Kirby [Connell] was there. If that guy wasn’t used then this guy might have also gotten it done. Or this matchup. We are fortunate enough to have that. There’s enough food to go around on the table. Some guys were frustrated but everyone was happy with that outfield meeting that you have after a game if you win. If you keep winning, more guys get drafted. You get more per diem. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that or not. The food gets better and the hotels get better. You get posted more on Twitter and experience more things. The bonds get stronger. Like JP’s [Arencibia] ’05 team. When you go to Omaha and stuff like that. It takes a minute to realize that it’s a new era of kid, but I think we got a really unselfish group and maybe they realize I’m not the guy that’s on the movie poster, but maybe I’m the guy playing this role or whatever and making it still go.

On reaching goals in their season like making the SEC Tournament

“It’s great. You want to get to a point where you can survive in this league. You do look at the wins a little bit and get to a point to where you know you’re going to be in Hoover. Or you know you have a certain margin of error in the conference. It helps ya. At this point, friends, in our division or out of our division, it doesn’t matter. I think I can speak for every coach in this league, just hunt down the next win. You need the next SEC win and it will help you even more than you realize.”

On how it feels to pick up their second sweep of the season

“Good. Kind of stressed. It’s nice when our guys do what they can do at times with the bat, but that’s just not reality. Especially as you get towards the end of the season, you see the type of arms we’re seeing in our league. There will be moments where our offense is explosive, but more times than not, it’s going to be, can you take that deep breath? Can you get rid of tension and press on and do what you need to do to win? A sweep is nice. It’s very difficult to get, but when we do play these series, our guys know the task at hand. You’re trying to get to two wins before the other team and we were able to do that, so when you come to the ball park today, it’s kind of about attacking today and going 1-0.”

On what he does as a head coach and as as a staff to foster a sense belonging on his team with hispanic players such as Ariel Antigua and Christian Moore

“Well, those two guys are knuckleheads. I miss Jorel Ortega, is who I miss. But those guys are special individuals, too. It’s just really fun when you have a bunch of guys with a different background. The high school baseball in this state is way better than we anticipated, and then it’s growing. Part of it is the population. There’s a lot of people that want to move to Knoxville, Chattanooga and obviously Nashville, too. So, the baseball is getting better, but for us to accomplish our goals, we’re going to have to spread our wings and go coast to coast, and go up to the northeast, and Obviously Florida (with) Jorel and other guys like that.

“So when we bring them all together, it’s fun to see different backgrounds and different individuals. We go way out of our way — I don’t mind kind of bragging — the one thing we really do is to try and get our guys to be comfortable in their own skin, and be who they are. And part of that is laughing at yourself and maybe even making (a joke) at the head coach with, ‘hey, your shoes stink.’ Or, ‘your taste in music is bad.’ At the end of the day we’re all dudes. So if we’re going to say we’re teammates, that means 3-2 or 13-2, it means in the locker room I run into a guy at Dos Bros or whatever, we need to be able to have conversations with one another. I’ll take my next meal free for that mention. But I think that’s crucial. At the heart of everything, you could get a banner or a ring or anything or any pat on the back for an accomplishment. Teammate deal is very, very important to us. And I think it’s been fostered by a lot of people like our strength coach and all of our support staff that work with those guys, and hopefully those guys would share that sentiment.”

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