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What Tennessee Players Said About The Vols Clinching Share Of SEC Championship

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball clinched a share of the SEC Championship on Saturday afternoon as the Vols completed the weekend sweep of South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

After the win, Tennessee catcher Cal Stark and starting pitcher Zander Sechrist met with the media and discussed winning the SEC Championship and much more. Here’s everything they said.

Cal Stark

On the feeling when they realized they were co-SEC champions

You know, it’s always a good feeling being at the top. So we were all in there [film room], jumping around, cheering, hollering – that’s our first goal that we got. We got a couple more left that we’re going to keep striving towards.

On closing out South Carolina with a sweep

“It feels really good to kind of keep the momentum going for us going into the tournament. We played a lot better than we did last night. I thought we swung the bat pretty well today. Hit a lot of balls hard and played sound defense. Zander [Sechrist] was unreal for us today. That was really good. [Nate] Snead and [Aaron] Combs both coming out of the pen. You can’t say enough good things about those two guys right there. And Zander too. They threw the ball really well today. It gave us a really good chance to win.”

On winning the SEC after losing AJ Russell and the first conference series of the year

“I think that just it shows a lot about who we are as a group. We’re very resilient. Like Hunter [Ensley] said, we never feel like we’re out of a game, ever. No matter if it’s the first inning down 10 or ninth inning down one. I feel like we’re just one inning away from top to bottom. You know, stacking quality at bats together. Losing the first series and not panicking or anything like that, it just shows a lot about who we are as a bunch.”

On why Zander Sechrist was so effective today

“He just threw a lot of strikes. He threw every pitch for a strike, got ahead in counts early and pitched to contact. I don’t know how many strikeouts he had, but he used his defense well and the defense made plays behind him. We kind of rolled with that, with the pitch calling and stuff like that. Whenever he’s throwing it like he did today, it’s very easy to play defense behind him and call a good game.

On what went well in the fifth inning to score some runs

“Really just stacking quality at-bats. We hit a lot of balls hard earlier before that inning, so really not panicking – kind of like we did last night. Knowing a big inning is coming and [that] we’ll string a few hits together. Stuff like that. So, really just staying with our approach, staying to who we are and keep putting good swings on balls. And it happened.

On how this outing for Zander Sechrist compared to the Georgia one

“No doubt. It was actually really similar to his outing against Georgia. Commanding all of his pitches. Throwing a lot of first pitch strikes and getting ahead of the bats, using the defense. I feel like that’s what he’s best at – whenever he has all his stuff going and really just kind of can put the ball wherever he wants to.

On the fans hanging around to hear the SEC championship announcement

“They’re the best fans in the country. They fill this place up every single weekend, whether it’s the first weekend of the season or the last. So, it’s really easy to play in front of these guys and girls. Very easy to play in front of this fan base. And especially whenever we’re winning. We feel their energy and they’re kind of willing us to win the ballgame. So, it’s like I said, you can’t say enough good things about this fan base for every sport not just baseball.”

On the confidence you have that this team won’t get complacent

“Really just telling yourself there’s a lot more baseball to play. I mean, it’s May 18 or whatever and we’re hoping we’re still playing for another month, month and a half – however long it goes. So knowing that there’s a lot of goals still left to go after. It’s just a thing that we’re just going to keep telling ourselves.”

On the eagerness to have a better week in Hoover

“Hopefully we go for more than one game this time, but nah, can’t think of anything like that. Go down there, keep the momentum on our side like we have coming out this weekend. Keep throwing the ball well, play good defense, put good swings on balls and nothing really changes. It’s still just baseball.

On importance of this team winning in different ways

“It’s massive. We always talk about how we’re a complete offense and we don’t just rely on the long ball. We don’t rely on bunting or anything. We can do anything at any time. I think that says a lot about the offense that we have. We’re putting one run wins, run-rule wins in our back pocket, knowing that we can do it a lot of different ways – we need to throw the ball better today, if we’re going to rely on our defense. I mean, if we need to throw the ball better today. If we’re going to lean on our defense. Whatever, we’re just putting it in our back pocket and saving it for down the road.”

More From RTI: Where Tennessee Lands In SEC Tournament Bracket

Zander Sechrist

On what was working so well

“Just attacking more, honestly. I feel like I’ve gotten away from — I was cutting the ball at some points and just missing my spots, but just being able to attack and hit my spots better today was definitely why I was able to go along and keep (South Carolina) off the scoreboard.” 

On bouncing back from last week’s poor start at Vanderbilt

“You just gotta go back to the drawing board, honestly. You just gotta just reevaluate. I like to step back and reevaluate a lot of things. So that’s what I did this week. Took a step back, reevaluated what I need to do, especially from back-to-back road starts at Florida and Vandy. I compared them, got a little bit of differences, but then went back to the Georgia start and then compared all three, and then obviously today, it was pretty good.”

On some of the things he went back to from the Georgia start

“Just location of pitches. ‘Cause like I said, at Vandy, I was just cutting the ball over the middle and I think that’s where (Alan) Espinal hit his backside homer and you know, it’s just, this game is so weird. ‘Cause some days a pitch doesn’t get hit and some days it’s hit 450, so it comes and goes. It’s good and bad with baseball, man. I’ve been — I’m not gonna lie — I’ve been frustrated these past two starts, just trying to figure out how to get out of the first inning and getting out of the first inning today was, I felt like I went (complete game) ’cause I was like, ‘okay, I can do this.’ But now we just have to extend it a little bit.”

On winning the SEC

“I’m blessed enough to have been a part of this for a while now, so it’s just another thing under the belt. And obviously we got Hoover coming up, which is just a fun place to be at ’cause there’s a Dave & Buster’s to the left of the hotel. I still have my card from freshman year and it’s connected to a mall with some Chick-fil-A, about every option you can think of. So it’ll be fun to go back to Hoover.”

On how important it was to have a strong outing in order to build confidence heading into the postseason

“I just had to go back to the drawing board. Obviously being frustrated, you don’t try to show it, but sometimes it gets in the way a little bit. So, like I said, taking video of three different starts and putting ’em together on what we could do to have a good start today. And obviously the last start of the regular season here. I just wanted to go out on a high note after starting a lot of Tuesdays here, and that’s not a bad thing at all. But yeah, the confidence was a little low but honestly I just, you know, just gotta keep attacking. Then obviously it worked well today.”

On if everything on the line was on his mind during the outing

“I got a little bit emotional afterwards. I wasn’t like crying but like, I could feel myself getting a little bit of emotional. But yeah, a lot of Tuesdays on that field, a lot of innings on that mound in particular. I mean, I don’t even know how many. And then all the fall (practices) on that mound. So it’s just blood, sweat and tears in the four years, and obviously the fans showed out today, so I gotta thank Vol Nation for that.”

On what it meant for him to be the guy that got the ball with the SEC Championship on the line

“It just feels good. It feels good. It feels like I got my confidence back a little bit at least. But obviously, you know, like I said, baseball’s a weird game. You gotta take the highs and the lows, so obviously we’ll just go back to the drawing board and see what worked today. And then we’ll compare it to that Georgia start, ‘cause they’re similar. Except one had seven (strikeouts), one had four. And then one had one walk, one didn’t. But then we can reevaluate the Vandy and Florida, and put them together, and then we can just get a good combination of each.”

On what it feels like to go from a midweek starter to a weekend starter

“I guess longevity I guess. But just being able to show that I can compete with SEC hitters. I was blessed enough to be in the Cape (Cod) last summer and that gave me a little bit of a reality check, seeing a bunch of D1 one guys on the team, like D1 All-Star team. So doing that just helped me build confidence going into this year and being able to face SEC hitters.”

On knowing that Nate Snead is coming in to pitch at some point

“Just keep attacking obviously. I don’t know how many pitches (I threw). 65. I mean, you gotta make it hard on the coaching staff to not pull you out. But obviously Snead was gonna get work regardless, no matter my pitch count anyway. But it was good to go six innings, good to put up six zeros and Snead did his job, (Aaron) Combs did his job. Moving forward to Hoover, we’re gonna need him down the road anyways, so maybe, boom, there’s a little bit of a rest for Snead there. He’ll be able to go longer next time.”

On how good the defense was today

“Oh yeah, I mean I try to do that every time. Just sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. But yeah, defense was good today. Three double plays. I think that’s the first time in my career, college and high school, that I’ve ever gotten three double plays. I usually get like one, but we call those defensive home runs ’cause they’re momentum swingers. So yeah, it was good to see that and the guys played well behind me.” 

On Cal Stark’s energy behind the plate

“We will go back to Tuesday, so me and Chuck (Charlie Taylor) had a thing going and then a couple Tuesdays, Cal would step in there. So we made a group chat and we called him a home wrecker. So, you know, it didn’t go off well to the start, but it was just a big old joke. But yeah, he’s got great energy. Love throwing to that guy and he is very comfortable to throw to, and no matter if the outing is going good or bad, you know you have a catcher behind the plate that’s supporting you.”

On why Stark feels like a quarterback back there

“I guess because he can just see everything. Not to be cliche, but he can just see everything, see what’s going on. And obviously he’s been doing the, I think pitch comm thing. So him and (Frank Anderson) have been going back and forth with what pitches (Anderson) suggests, blah blah. But yeah, he’s a great dude to throw to and I couldn’t thank him more.”

On what it will mean for the staff to get AJ Russell back

“AJ will fit right in no matter what role he’ll get, but yeah, he’ll fit right in and it’ll be just like that Texas Tech start. He’ll just flow and we’ll see what we get. It doesn’t matter if it’s one inning, maybe he closes a game, maybe he starts a game, it doesn’t matter. He’ll just fit right in.”

On why the pitching staff was able to overcome the loss of Russell this season

“Just next man up mentality. I’m a (Pittsburgh Steelers) fan, so the standard is the standard. Obviously being with a Pittsburgh mindset, you still gotta do your job. You still gotta just go out there and do the best you can.” 

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