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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Defeated Queens

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball avoided a scare on Tuesday night as it knocked off Queens 6-3 in its penultimate midweek game of the 2024 season.

The Vols trailed in the seventh inning before a Dylan Dreiling home run gave them their first lead of the night and Kirby Connell and Aaron Combs got Tennessee to the finish line on the mound.

Following the game, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed the win, this weekend’s series at Vanderbilt and more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

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

On if he was pleased with his team’s approach

“I think approach wise, [yes]. Good energy in the building yesterday. I wasn’t around on Monday. I don’t know what the best plan is because the schedule varies when you get Sunday off and then you got Monday as kind of what it usually is for all college baseball players, but I was around yesterday. Good energy in the building. And then today, I think guys were in here as early as ever but kept it to what they needed. But when the game starts and you don’t throw strikes, it puts everyone on their heels. But guys responded, and overall, I think the approach was good. Maybe some guys were a little more invested in the dugout, but no real complaints.”

On how Dalton Bargo did behind the plate

“Good. I thought he did really well. We had some problems with the technology, but he caught well. And then we were going to need – if a guy got on base – we were going to need to manage the game a little bit. And he’s been there in big games, but I didn’t want it to be a conversation where it came down to one thing and we’re like ‘We had [Cannon] Peebles there. His spot’s not going to come up in the order,’ so we just went with the more experienced guy. But it’s a long time coming. Coach E (Josh Elander) has been pressing for it. He’s certainly prepared and capable, and it’s good that we did it. And it’ll happen again by the end of the year. The biggest thing was not just him doing well defensively but being that spark off the bench to kickstart an inning.”

On Dylan Loy’s performance

“It was outstanding. I think in a perfect world, you just kind of put him in a box of, ‘Hey, you’re our guy that comes in and faces a couple of lefties,’ because he’s done so well at it. And we didn’t start him because Marcus [Phillips] didn’t throw over the weekend, and we wanted to give him a fair opportunity to take the ball and run with it. But Dylan [Loy] is capable of going a lengthy amount of time, and it was probably time to get him out of there, but he gave us everything he had and looked really sharp doing it. And I’m hopeful it’s a quick recovery so we can have him available for this weekend’s games.”

On Aaron Combs coming in to get the final two outs

“Yeah, in my opinion, that’s his specialty. Or at least he’s been forced into that role or boxed into that role of when we get into a jam, we need a guy that’s not scared and is going to compete and throw strikes. Kirby [Connell] fits that as well, but Combsy (Aaron Combs) has done it since he’s been on our campus. And I think it provides a good deal of confidence for him to be out there when you finish the game. Regardless of the situation, he’s done it a handful of times for us.”

On if you can’t simulate that late-game, high-leverage scenario

“Yeah, no chance. And then the other thing as far as the confidence you can take from it, if he doesn’t throw tonight, there’s no sense in staying out here. Tomorrow, he probably gets some work off the mound, so it’d be a little lighter and not quite as intense, but it’s not going to simulate what he’s going to be thrown into –more than likely – this coming weekend. So for him to get out there and do it was good. I don’t think we’d script the end of it the way we did [it]. I mean we left Kirby [Connell] out there a little longer than maybe you gameplan [for], but this time of year, it’s ‘survive and advance.’ The more you can get in the heat of the fire and get repetitions at learning how to survive, the better you are as a team and as an individual as well.”

On his comfort level in Dylan Dreiling in clutch moments, if Dreiling’s heart rate ever gets above 50

“No. It’s annoying because my heart rate is about as high as Frank’s (Anderson) and you can imagine what that is. So to have a calming influence on the mound is big, in those jam situations we’re talking about but it is equally important in the box and, again, I think when some of these guys one through nine are just pressing to do what they have to do to help us win the game— it’s a fun lineup. But it’s not a good enough lineup to have two or three spots disappear on you. I’d have to watch tape and analyze it, but I’ve kind of picked up (that) anytime that does happen— we’ve been able to win some games in an ugly fashion when it does happen but it’s usually two or three guys start out the day maybe trying to do too much or something other than just win the game and it boils into a big ball of frustration and you end up with a spot where you don’t get anything out of it and, again, we used examples where Reese (Chapman) probably doesn’t want me to bring up a strikeout but that one sticks out of an at-bat where he drains the pitcher and Cal Stark hits a home run behind him. That’s a team effort. In a weird way. Probably in a way the fans don’t notice. Chris Burke is the one who was telling me this past weekend that when he used to play in the big leagues the whole deal was take a bite out of the pitcher. Take a little piece of him with you even if he does retire you.”

On if they’d like to find a consistent DH or if they’re happy to rotate

“Yeah it’s interesting because I think to go through this game is a challenge and at times frustrating but it makes you better in the long run. When you have to try different things and have to slide Bargo back there (behind the plate), it makes you stronger in the end. Now it’s easier two years ago when Trey Lipscomb is in the five slot every single day and you guys could all go up to the office halfway through the year and write up the lineup and tell us who is going to come in and what (Camden) Sewell is going to be in this spot, Redmond (Walsh) is going to be in this spot— that’s easier and it probably makes you better to rack up wins but what makes you better in the long run is a little bit of a Rubik’s Cube deal where hey we’re constantly trying to figure out a few things with this team. We’ve been able to win some games. We’ve been able to have success but we have not found our best combination of really anything. I think defensively has kind of sorted itself out but then Bargo has evolved and you could even pick that apart. Base running has continued to improve but we have guys that need to be pinch run for. But the big two are the pitching and hitting aren’t even close to being like this is our final destination let’s see how good we can make it. I think that’s a good thing for this team.”

On if they need to reach that final destination before postseason play

“Yeah, probably. I was trying to think of something smart aleck to say, but, yeah whatever journey you start there has to be an end somewhere. So at some point maybe we are there but also a DH spot, if you have depth it’s something that provides you flexibility that you can go with a matchup. Or even we think this guy verse the starter, we’re going to give him one at-bat or see how it goes. They perform their best when they know what to expect when they come to the park and they kind of know— Trey knew he was in that spot every day but we don’t have that. You just have to be prepared and when you get your opportunity you certainly can’t slight it but you also can’t make too much of it or it’s going to turn into a mess. Just make it into a deal where you’re trying to help us win.”

On if he knows why Tennessee has been so successful against Vanderbilt over the last couple of seasons

“It could can be football, it can be basketball. Sometimes we beat Kentucky in basketball. Sometimes they beat us. I could go up and down about the other sports. You just better be ready to take lumps in this league no matter who you are, and then the cool thing about it, is if you can keep navigating through it or keep pushing forward, when you win, they’re the best wins in the world regardless if they come on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, even Thursday — if you can get one of those SEC wins under your belt. It feels like it’s cause for bust out the champagne, but in our sport it’s get ready for the next day.”

On how he handles being No. 1 differently now than in 2022

“I don’t. Me and John Adams were having a good conversation. We both like movies. That’s something that’s voted on. It’s voted on by very smart people that are doing their research, but it’s still voted on and we talked about Leonardo DiCaprio, how does that work out for his Oscar situation? Not fair if you ask me. That’s just my opinion, but he’s doing just fine. Puts out good work. I’m pretty sure we’d have fun hanging out with that guy. I know you (reporter) and I aren’t invited though.

“It’s no disrespect. I’ve had a few of these where people throw out different stuff, like Kentucky. I never said one thing about their team. I may have said something about our — but someone went ahead and labeled that as a Kentucky comment, and people thought it was cool, so that’s great, but it’s not what I said. So I’m not disparaging it (the No. 1 ranking) at all, because there’s people that it’s their job and they do a hell of a job at it, so there’s information accumulated there, but it is just something that’s just voted on whereas opposed to the end of the SEC Tournament, you’ll find out who wins the SEC Tournament in Hoover based off the competition and then, we’re not similar in football to where if you’re in that ranking, then you make that cut off spot. Our goal is to get as good as we can get.

“The SEC is a party like no other, but the best way to party is to win games. But ultimately for each of the SEC teams, we’re trying to get 10, 11 teams in a regional every year and each of those teams, like Mississippi when they won, knows — if they don’t know, they’re not very smart — this league has them prepared as good as you can possibly be, and you go out and see what you can do. And a lot of teams in our league have had success.”

On what he’s seen from Vanderbilt this season

“There’s a lot of familiar faces because there’s guys returning and some of them our older, but there’s also a lot of guys that they brought back that are younger that were platoon guys, or you saw here and there, that are now the guys for them that are out there every day. They can always run. They’re not afraid to involve different things with the offense. You’re always going to see fancy arms and I say that in a good way. Big prospecty arms. Some of the guys that we recruited, so that’s kind of been their M.O. Is big arms on the mound and athletes that are versatile out in the field and they have that very same thing this year in particular. And they’ve played very well at home. I probably sound annoying when I talk about it, but I just don’t look at stuff that I don’t want to put energy into. But if it’s loud enough, you do hear it, and I do know that they’ve been very strong at home, so that’s certainly a strength of their team. As is most of the SEC.”

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