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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Took Series Opener Over South Carolina

Tony Vitello at the NCAA Clemson Regional. Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball picked up its 20th conference win of the season on Thursday night, knocking off South Carolina 9-3 in the series opener at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Vols’ head coach Tony Vitello mixed up his lineup and Christian Moore etched his name into another Tennessee record book. Vitello discussed both things and much more following the win. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: What To Know About Tennessee’s Series Opening Win Over South Carolina

On where Christian Moore’s recent stretch and season ranks amongst impressive feats he’s seen

“I think what he is doing is something that some guys have done beforehand. They are a part of a really good group, so it makes them better. They’ve got guys behind them doing the job and guys in front of him getting on base. Doing it from the leadoff spot is kind of unique. Since he’s been a freshman, too, he’s done it in important situations. When the competitiveness is about as high as it can get or the fire is burning about as hot as you can imagine. There’s a lot of different things you can throw in and it’s a long conversation we could have, but it will be a really fun one when the season is over and when his career is over. Yesterday was really fun with [Jordan] Beck hitting the homer and Trey [Lipscomb] facing [Garrett] Crochet – and some other guys doing some things in the minor leagues. Those will be ongoing conversations for a while and they will be really fun. I think CMO will be a centerpiece for those [conversations].”

On the changes to the batting order

“Kind of looking at who we were facing has a little bit to do with it, but trying to balance things out. Looking to put some people on notice that they need to do a little bit better. [Colby] Backus with what he did, I’ve kind of repeated it – all those guys deserve what they get. Bradke [Lohry] is sitting there. [Dalton] Bargo. But we give Backus the nod tonight. It didn’t go well for him, but as long as we get some productivity from each spot of the lineup – a quality at bat or two. Reese [Chapman] kind of picked us up there at the end with the swing that he took. I think it’s nice that this group is flexible. Like I’ve said before a couple of years ago and even the year before, you and guys slated in very specific spots – whether it be on the mound or in the lineup. I don’t know that we will ever get to that spot where it’s just stationary. Maybe it will be from one game to the next is where we will assess what we think is best.”

On if he felt like the certain guys responded the right way to the lineup changes

“I think so. I think KT [Kavares Tears] needs to have a good approach at the plate. He certainly did that tonight. It started here and he is certainly determined. It followed into his work in BP [batting practice] and in the game. Even in one of the at-bats that didn’t go his way, you saw a good approach and a right mindset. I think – it’s not just him and it depends on what game it is – this thing goes in cycles and everybody in our lineup has the chance to be the best guy that night. Everybody in the lineup has a chance to struggle maybe that night in particular. So when you struggle, you can get even more competitive or more determined or not. That might just be within the game. By numbers, they [South Carolina] have a bunch of other big arms. You see a guy that’s in a groove and he makes it tough on you, you can either feel defeated or pout or whatever it might be – or get more determined.”

On if Christian Moore belongs in SEC Player of the Year conversation

“I think he should be. I think if they were giving away an award for running hard down to first, he’s probably going to finish, I don’t know, 362nd or something like that. But look at what Trey (Lipscomb) is doing. The one thing about Trey that year (2022)  in particular, and Dylan Crews is a freak and I’m not supposed to say it because I work at Tennessee, but I love Sonny DiChiara. He falls short of beating those two guys but look at what he’s doing now? So I think those awards are awesome and an honor and probably something you should be proud of, but it’s a marathon (not) a sprint applies to our game more than anything. So I think what you want is to continue to have success and play as long as you can and to keep getting better and Christian Moore is definitely doing that and I can see him continuing to do that when his time is done with us. It’s nice for our program and other guys are making him better and there’s days too where goes out and does it and makes it even easier on other guys.”

On how he would assess AJ Causey’s outing

“Good. He never really got into a flow or a rhythm like he tends to do at times but he also, if you flip it, never got into that situation where at times where a couple things snow plowed? You like the Simpsons? Mr. Plow. Remember that episode? It didn’t snowball on him with maybe we don’t make a play or a flare or whatever it might be. So overall it was an outing where he kept everything together for us. Certainly makes our dugout feel good when he’s out there and I think he tampered down their offense in a way that made our offense a little bit better. Good outing and another win for him and it will be exciting for him to go to his home state and pitch in some capacity next week.”

On AJ Causey being able to pitch in multiple runs entering the postseason

“If you want to have a meeting with him tomorrow to stress it would be outstanding, and that goes for everybody. That’s nice about this group and we’ve had it in the past where guys are flexible and everyone wants the ball in whatever situation it might be and I think it’s going to be important for guys to realize they might get hot in the bullpen and get passed over and they may be asked to do something that’s not in the norm for them, but the good thing in his case is he’s kind of done it three different ways for us and I think he should expect all three ways to be possibilities for us. Our tournament isn’t in March but March Madness is called that for a reason. It’s chaos. Chaos will begin for every team in the country, not just ours, when the postseason rolls around.”

On Christian Moore’s success while being a circled bat in the lineup

“I think that’s a big thing for pitchers and hitters because there’s so much information and people scheme and game plan for you and things like that. You have to be able to counter adjust and I don’t want to say like a counter move because it’s not chess we’re playing here but you have to be able to cover your blind spots, and I don’t think you can do that in one day or one sit down or one video session. I think that is, kind of back to my answer, you want to win awards, you want to win games, you want to get recognized, you want to get honored, you want the results to go your way, but if you just kind of tunnel it down to what you have control over and what you need to do every day for those things to happen is just keep evolving. It’s been interesting to watch him and Blake Burke and KT especially, just evolve and become complete players. Dylan Dreiling certainly belongs in that category too.”

On Chris Stamos bouncing back with a 1-2-3 inning in the second after struggling in the first

“Yeah, it was good. If anything, how he threw in the second inning makes it more frustrating for him and more difficult for us to make the switch. We kind of talked and that’s kind of what we felt to do. I mean, one pitch, he gets to a two-strike count there and you know, a few pitches in the first inning just didn’t look like his normal conviction and that just might be because they put one run on the board, taking the easy way out and saying that result happened because of this. That’s just kind of the way it looked to me.

“But you make one poor mistake to a Team USA guy (Ethan Petry) and he makes you pay for it. But overall, he did exactly what we need him to do for us, and then Causey certainly took the baton and did well with it, as did Kirby (Connell).”

On Hunter Ensley drawing three walks in the five hole

“Yeah, it was huge for tonight’s game, but the more exciting thing for me — I guess to stick with this theme of getting better and evolving — Hunter is an aggressive guy. He’ll run into the wall for you, he runs the bases aggressive, he’s got an aggressive mentality and he wants to swing the bat, which is awesome. But as we’ve said, it takes two to tango. So just to swing to swing will get you in a hot mess in this league. The fact that he can add that to his repertoire and we were joking when I talked in here, a couple guys don’t have that hit by pitch repertoire to them like I did, but I couldn’t hit. So, it’s a tough one to coach, but everyone needs to be willing to just take their walk if the guy is trying to get them to chase, or if the guy’s command is lacking. He set the table for us in a big way.

“The numbers weren’t big. We faced (Ty) Good. He had their best numbers out of everybody and you could see why. It’s a real difficult mix and it’s not like in the first two or three innings we put up six runs, but what we did do is make it very difficult on him and drove that pitch count up and part of it was Ensley. That’s a nice little spot (hitting fifth). We mentioned Trey Lipscomb. That’s a nice little juicy spot in the five hole in the lineup for everybody and he took advantage of it.”

On Causey’s ability to work out of jams

“I think to be honest with you we’ve had that confidence for a while now. Kentucky, we bring him so quickly. We don’t mind him starting against anybody, but if we’re going to bring him in, in the middle of a game, we really don’t mind what the situation is. Again, the Kentucky one is easy to reference because it was a hot mess we brought him into. It was kind of a gut feel. We go real quick change and he’s got the composer that you’re looking for. 

“And Kirby is throwing the ninth inning because he’s got the composure and (Aaron) Combs has been thrown in a bunch of jams because of that, so we’ve got some guys we really trust. And then the fun thing is we’ve got some guys like (Dylan) Loy and (Marcus) Phillips — I may leave somebody out — that, you know, are climbing that batter a little bit, too. We’re going to need all of them.”

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