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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Clinched Series Win Over South Carolina

Tony Vitello Tennessee Notre Dame
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee baseball came from behind to defeat South Carolina 8-3 on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The victory marked the Vols’ ninth straight series victory and their fifth straight series win over South Carolina.

Following the game, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello discussed Hunter Ensley big night in the field and at the plate, the offense hitting its stride late in the game and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Late Game Offensive Explosion Pushes Tennessee Past South Carolina

On how well this team is at making in-game adjustments

“Yeah, I think it’s strong. I think it comes from leadership combined with determination. If you have to have a group powwow about it, and as coaches we influence that in the middle of the game, there’s a really good chance it’s too late. So, it’s got to come from guys like [Hunter] Ensley and of course CMO [Christian Moore] and [Blake] Burke. That’s why it’s nice to have some guys who have been around – not just this league but our program – and they have influence with not just what they do on the field and in the dugout with communication out there. Guys like Drew Beam, too. We are blessed to have that ability because a game can take on many different forms over the course of nine innings and sometimes even extra innings. You do kind of have to flow freely with it a little bit.”

On the moment he had with Blake Burke after hitting the grand slam

“Just me being an idiot and by now, everybody should be used to [it]. Coach E [Josh Elander] talked to him. I also talked to him. As a coach, you’re trying to help as much as you can and almost will it to happen. The player has got to do it and he’s done it in some big moments before. That was a really big moment and a massive exclamation point he did it with.”

On the defensive play Hunter Ensley made in the second inning

“I kept saying it in that inning. To get away with three was huge. Huge. It was already kind of a sucker punch. They earned what they got because we didn’t play very good that inning. We kind of had a hangover in the dugout for a couple of innings. [Garrett] Gainey was going really good on the mound, but it could have been even more detrimental if the numbers were a little different on the scoreboard. Plus, you’ve got to score more runs than the other team. So, it’s good you noticed that. It was a massive play, just like CMO [Christian Moore] was going to his right. But each inning kind of takes on its own identity as well and that one wasn’t going well. You need to figure out how to have a good bad day, a wise man once said. If you’re having a bad inning, you need to find a way to have a good bad inning and I think Drew [Beam] is as set up as well as anyone to do that. But he needed some help from [Hunter] Ensley and he did it in a big way.”

On Drew Beam’s ability to settle into a game after a rocky start

“Yeah, it’s huge. And it’s the characteristics of the really good ones. Redmond Walsh, yeah, it went smooth for him at times. And it’s gone smooth for Drew [Beam]. But what stands out is when it doesn’t. Because that carries a little more weight and has a little more value when the ship is really rocky that a guy can keep it centered. And he’s done it time and time again for us in wins and losses. This is a complete weekend that we’re trying to play, and I know things will change a little bit after tomorrow, but for the most part, you’re trying to play a complete game and, at times, a complete weekend or tournament. It’s important to have a guy like that (Drew), regardless of what the results are.”

On how hard it is to win nine straight SEC series

“Not as hard as it is to win when you make four errors and the other team doesn’t make any. I can tell you that. So, regardless of how you do it, you want to win each series and get to two wins before the other team does, and you’ll take it any way you can. Earlier in the year, it kind of seemed like there were consistent themes to our games, and then halfway through SEC play, it got really erratic. At least the way we talk as coaches up there where the games have been different and we’ve found different ways to win, and that’s very important to have that rolodex be as lengthy or as thick as possible for different ways you can win.”

On Aaron Combs’ night

“Huge, because every inning affects tomorrow, too, and our most important game of the season is tomorrow. Because he was efficient – we’ll talk about it – but he probably makes himself available but also holds and saves the rest of the bullpen. And he [kept] things where they needed to be in that game, and certainly anytime you can finish off the game, it’s huge as well. So, he did a great job of playing catch. 

“But honestly, we kind of pumped up [Drew] Beam, and you bring up Combs, the best or favorite inning of the coaching staff just a second ago in the locker room was [Andrew] Behnke’s, because it was a swing part of the game. For him to throw the way he did was huge. We didn’t play our best defensively tonight, but [Hunter] Ensley made that play (sliding catch), and CMo (Christian Moore) made a tremendous play behind Behnke. When you throw strikes and you work ahead, the defense seems to play a little bit better.”

On what gave them the confidence to go with Andrew Behnke to begin the 7th inning

“He was the guy. He was the guy scripted ahead of time. Going into the weekend, going into today, and then in the middle of the game, too. To be frank with you – no pun intended with the pitching fella – but we were going one hitter at a time. And he was throwing the ball really well. His misses were good on top of the fact that he got three outs the way he did. He’s our guy in certain situations, and there’s a pecking order – I just vented my frustrations with a couple of guys that I really hope get in the game tomorrow – but there has been a little bit of a pecking order and some roles established, so we’ll roll with it as we see fit.”

On Christian Moore’s home run kickstarting Tennessee’s offense

“You want a one on the board over a zero to know that you can do it, overall, but I think with this group they know they can do it and he (South Carolina SP Garrett Gainey) was throwing the ball really well. I think we let the poor play in the second inning carry over a little bit so it contributed a little bit. But we knew how good that guy was based on video. We had talked about it before the weekend rolled around and we were wondering when we were going to see him. He was as advertised and I hope he would say he was feeling it a little bit tonight. Even if he wouldn’t say that, that guy has a chance to pitch in the big leagues. He was grooving and tomorrow, again, is the most important day, but around the corner you have to be realistic and admit that it’s postseason play. If you want to have a happy meeting in the outfield after the game you have to beat a guy like that. So, again, different ways of gaining experience in recent weeks has been huge for our group and that is another way.”

On Hunter Ensley validating his decision to move him up in the lineup

“Yeah it helps. We always say to you, not in jest, good players will make you look smart. But I think you can piece together a few different lineups with our group. You have a guy with a lot of power hitting in the leadoff spot and you could go on-and-on and play with it differently. Or we have the benefit or luxury of moving guys in-and-out. I just walked past a really good hitter on the way in here that deserves to be in the lineup and didn’t get any at-bats tonight. I would call it a little bit of a luxury. The key for us is the guys that do get an opportunity— they look around and realize they don’t have to be the guy. We can all do it together as a group, or they can all do it together and their buddy will pick them up if they don’t.”

On Tennessee breaking the SEC single-season grand slam record

“Take that number for now. Tomorrow once the sun comes up it doesn’t matter anymore unless something else happens with that number. I think it is a reflection of this is a group that doesn’t let the moment get too big at times. I could list off a few guys that pop into my head but I would probably leave somebody out. But it’s fun to hit with the bases loaded and the pressure is on the other guy. But that is easier said than done when you’re in the batter’s box and our fans, who have been really active the last two nights— that’s a lot easier said than done. Guys have fought their way on base a lot this year. There’s been other numbers— John Wilkerson knows them all. He’s thrown (them) on me with runners on, RBI situations. To me that all starts with guys fighting their way on base even if it means— on Tuesday the easiest example is CMo saw a bunch of pitches, put the ball in play, hard 90 down to first base and they make an error. We’ll take it whatever way we can get it.”

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