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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Took Opener At Vanderbilt

Tennessee Baseball
Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Baseball

Tennessee baseball knocked off Vanderbilt 8-4 in Friday night’s series opener at Hawkins Field in Nashville. The Vols took an early lead before the Commodores used a three-run sixth inning to take the lead.

Tony Vitello’s seventh Tennessee squad came flying back with a five-run eighth inning to take the lead and didn’t look back from there as they secured the series opener.

Following the win, Vitello discussed AJ Causey and Chris Stamos outings, the two eighth inning home runs and more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: How Tennessee Baseball Got It Done In The Series Opener Against Vanderbilt

On AJ Causey bouncing back after a rough sixth inning

“Yeah it was tremendous. I think he got frustrated in that inning. It obviously was kind of a late start to the inning for them, and they made a lot out of it, so kudos to them for that. Baseball is not quite like basketball where there’s usually runs by both teams, but there’s a back-and-forth that usually happens within the flow of the game, and he bounced back in tremendous fashion after starting out really strong, too. So, when you add the whole thing together, it was another outstanding night by him, and probably the biggest highlight for him that he will brag about tomorrow was his play on the bunt that he made defensively.”

On what gave him the confidence to go back to Causey for the seventh

“Just the way he competes. I think the track record, too. Whether it’s scrolling through your phone or what we get bombarded with information-wise or when you’re cheering for a team which, like it or not, we get caught up in it in the dugout, you tend to focus on the negative. But if you look at his whole body of work and you look at how he goes about his business and you look at how he was throwing the ball tonight, you basically got a situation where he just misses on a couple of pitches and then they put a couple of hits together, which you’re not going to hold down their offense completely. There’s too many guys in there that are capable and too many guys that are experienced for Vanderbilt. So, overall, there wasn’t much hesitation from us at all.”

On the feeling that the opponent knows it isn’t going to hold down Tennessee’s offense

“No, I mean… hey, it’s happened. We had to grind through some wins in different ways against Missouri. Last Tuesday, I don’t even remember how we won, but it was just ‘find a way to win.’ On our side, you would say the same thing. I’d like to think that regardless of who we’re playing, there’s experience there. There’s a lot of options. We used three different guys at our DH (designated hitter) spot tonight. And if our guys have the right mindset and are scratching and clawing the whole game, then yeah, you’d like to think that there’s going to be a way that they can produce, at the very least, some quality at-bats.”

On what he saw from Billy Amick and Kavares Tears to leadoff the eighth inning

“Not trying to do too much. KT (Kavares Tears), I think the at-bat prior [to that] had rolled over to the first baseman, but Billy [Amick] had done that his at-bat prior where [he] didn’t try to do too much, took what he got, and I realize KT hit his ball a long way, but if you watch the replay – and I’m off to the side – but I think when we watch the video, what we saw is a guy just kind of staying inside the baseball, and he’s so strong that it kind of jetted out of here over the left-field wall. He’s got a lot of strength. But at the same time, if you have that strength and you don’t try to do too much, great things will happen. CMo (Christian Moore), Billy, KT, obviously Blake Burke, those guys have shown that time and time again.”

On how good it was to see Cannon Peebles hit a pinch hit home run

“Great. Now, CMo was standing right next to me during that and he said he hit a home run by accident. What he meant by that was when we watch that video you’ll see Cannon taking two huge swings and really all we needed to do was— we got a runner on second (just) find a hole and he took two huge swings and with two strikes kind of shortened up and just kind of flicked it out with the flick of his wrist really. He joked that it was an accidental home run, it wasn’t the intent of the swing, it was the ability of the kid. If he gets his bat on the ball it’ll go for him too. He’s really strong. You guys have seen him do great things before. Unfortunately he’s drowned out that strength a little bit by either jumping at the ball or having too many thoughts but you know if he understands that less is more, which happened right there. For us, where we’re at is where we’re at. You’re almost kind of like you’re a Major League Baseball team with a trade and you make a big trade at the deadline if you can get a version of either him or some other guys that have drowned out what they’re true ability is just by just trying to do too much and hey, I’m all for guys that want to win and I’d rather have guys trying to do too much because they’re in the battle and want to do well but, again, you guys have seen him do great things as have I. It can be frustrating for everybody so it was nice to have a moment where he just took what he got and was able to flick it over the right field fence.”

On why they went to Peebles in that pinch hit opportunity

“That’s one of their best arms out of the bullpen. He’s really tough on righties so to highlight what Ensley did is important. That was a short swing through the middle, it was loud off the bat. Ensley has strength too when he’s not trying to do too much and even if their infield wasn’t in that thing would have gotten through so kudos to him for doing well there, but that guy is really tough so we were just looking for what we thought was the best matchup in that situation and good players make you look smart.”

On what was working for Chris Stamos

“He was good. He was sharp. Even his misses were really good so I think that would be the thing that stuck out most. You want your misses to either be productive or good ones. That can sound kind of backwards if you haven’t meshed with pitchers or you haven’t coached before but I think he was sharp and I think he’s gaining some momentum as far as understanding what his role is, how to handle it and things like that and how to do so on the road as well as at home. It’s been nice to see him develop that way. It’s kind of interesting because he’s an older guy. I don’t even know how old the kid is. I know being from Cal he has a lot of experience at that school but it’s kind of nice to see a kid at that age kind of learn some things and develop a little bit and I think he’s been in the process of doing that.”

​​On how big it is to have Stamos and Causey pitch the way that they have while AJ Russell is injured

“It’s been huge because what we wanted was, on opening day when Russell and any of our starters weren’t built up to go 100 pitches, was, we really wanted to win the first game of the season. That’s the first game you’re thinking about for a month and a half while guys are on campus, so we wanted it to be Russell and Causey. So who’s going to fill Russell’s shoes? Nobody. And I say that with all due respect. Now, our guy we’re starting tomorrow (Drew Beam) is kind of different in how he does it and they’ve got different strengths and stuff. But I don’t know that we’ll have another guy like AJ Russell in our program for a while. So nobody is going to replace him, but you just need to get outs. 

“It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a bunch of different ways, so technically we’ve still got that one-two combo dating back to opening day because Stamos has approached it in a mature fashion. He’s done what he’s got to do to get us outs and he’s out there for as long as we’ll let him, and usually stands on top of the mound like I’m going to turn around and go back to the dugout, which I kind of like. And then he is our loudest cheerleader in the dugout when he comes out of the game. We had to tame him down a little bit tonight.”

On if Tennessee has confidence against Vanderbilt no matter what happens given the success against them over the last couple of years

“I think this team — and I’m going to quote a few former players — I would say this team regardless of the setting — and again, Tuesday was a really frustrating game, too. We were able to come from behind tonight. I think this team has its own kind of flavor or brand to it. They seem to forge ahead. It hasn’t always gone our way, but regardless of circumstances, you’d like your team to continue to compete and I think because we have some leadership and we got some guys that got some dog in them, they continue to push forward. And I think if you’ve got some talent, then it can work out in your favor. Find a way to win the game earlier in the week, find a way to win the game today and then tomorrow is about finding a way to go 1-0.”

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