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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Defeated Mississippi State

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball extended its stay at the SEC Tournament by knocking off Mississippi State 6-5 in a thrilling back-and-forth game on Friday night.

Following the game, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed Reese Chapman’s big night, the pitching staff piecing things together well and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: What To Know About Tennessee Baseball’s Victory Over Mississippi State

Opening statement

“Drew’s sitting next to me, so my first thought is I’m appreciative of obviously him being in our program, but I thought he threw the ball in excellent fashion tonight. I don’t think the — we got this box score here, does it justice for a couple different reasons.

Then it’s good to have Blake here too. He’s done it time and time again, even as a freshman being surrounded by those guys, but I don’t think he could have done it freshman year or have done it the way he’s done it the last two years without those guys that he played with. It’s a good time to give a shout out to those guys that are killing it in pro ball, but also some of the role players. Some of ’em are even still on this team that kind of help make our jobs easier now that we’ve been in Knoxville for a few years.”

On what Reese Chapman has been doing well at the plate this week

“I think he’s calmed down a little bit. You can see it in his takes. He’s always been a good two-strike adjuster, kind of taming down his swing. He’s certainly aggressive prior to two strikes, so that combo to me has always been there.

But the overall calmness in the box probably kind of comes from now he’s racked up plenty of experience instead of this in and out and limited time freshman year. He did play at a very high level in some tournaments in high school, but he’s now similar to these guys. He’s racked up a lot of experience. The kid works as diligent — we called him out in front of the team multiple times. He works as diligent — with as much intent, is the best word, as anyone we have on our team, and so there’s no doubt he’s prepared.”

On Ariel Antigua recording all three outs in the ninth inning, his season

“Yeah, Liam Spence, our former shortstop, said the ball will find you, which seems to happen when you go in the game, regardless of who you are. But he was in that spot and those are two very difficult plays. Him being able to make ’em was obviously huge for us. But I think he’s a kid who kind of caught a couple tough breaks, an injury in high school and then an injury with us, when he was on the fast track to either be a draft pick or one of these rare immediate players in the SEC, but I think is he an immediate player. A few more at-bats under his belt and I think it will click for him.

But right now, he’s been tremendous for us defensively and he’s anxious to go out there and we’re just trying to find ways to use somebody that’s a great tool for us to have.”

On Andrew Behnke’s outing

“Behnke was a man possessed. It was awesome. He’s shown that a little bit before, where the intent and the approach is exactly what you would want or you would pop a video in and tell a younger kid to watch that. He’s got the stuff to go with it. I don’t ever see a kid that’s timid or scared, but just the approach tonight was outstanding and it made you feel like — he’s obviously — I’ve said to you guys many times, he’s a great jam guy for us. But to copy my answers with ESPN out there, you’re able to add AJ Russell back to the mix, and then Behnke kind of throwing like that is something that I think gives us an edge. It’s one more guy to get us out of a situation that maybe Kirby’s not available or these other guys that we’ve used are not available.”

On his vantage point on the tensions, what was communicated to him

“Yeah, well, I think the umpires handled it well, and then I don’t know if it’s been announced in the other room, but the conference asked us to not shake hands at the end so there wasn’t any — the players — Blake even said it. All the players — I mean, Jordan was joking with our dugout, in particular with me, right before he stabbed us in the heart with that RBI. But, again, Blake mentioned all the players that were involved in the game were all cordial and kind of how it’s been in the conference. I mean, these guys have a ton of respect for one another.

But from my vantage point, which it’s my vantage point, you know, we thought we were out of the inning a couple times. So I haven’t seen the video where you actually have better perspective, but from our dugout, we thought we were out of the inning a couple times, and that’s our guy. I mean, I owe a lot, I owe money to Drew Bean. I don’t know what the ruling is. Not that I’m going to go hand him any money, but that’s our guy, and so I was boiling out there, to be honest with you. I tried to not show it. I didn’t say anything to the umpire or anything like that. But with my dad, I’m not used to a bunch of guys hollering out my name and not reacting.

So I’m Italian. Maybe I brought it on myself, but I didn’t say anything to anybody. Just not used to that. I mean, if our players are yelling out Dave to the Coach Van Horn in any form or fashion, we got a problem. So that’s just me. And, again, maybe I bring it on myself. So I reacted and then they reacted, and then after that, to me, the umpires did whatever they needed to do to handle it.

But if anything, those guys — first of all, I’m not in the fight. Anyone that wants to try and dig up video, I don’t think there is any, but I wasn’t a good player at all, so I ain’t in the game. The players — again, these freak athletes are the ones that are going to decide and maybe I make a stupid decision and mess it up, but our players are going to decide who wins and loses from here on out.

And the other thing is, if anything, I should have been — maybe they were yelling my name to thank me because with that emotional swing Drew had, we should have had somebody ready earlier and should have taken him out of the game.”

On the vast numbers of home runs this season at the SEC Tournament

“Yeah, I mean, I didn’t realize those numbers were like that, but I think as long as player safety is not an issue, and obviously, I showed tonight I’m not the patron saint of anything. But as long as player safety isn’t an issue — I mean, we’ve had some balls absolutely scalded this year, where a base runner or a pitcher was kind of a scary situation, you know, but I don’t know that other people are hitting home runs like some of the guys in this league. I mean, Blake has one of the best swings, and you look at two of their guys in the lineup, and every time Hunter Hines is up to bat you’re holding your breath, not just before he swings, but as the pitch is being thrown. So, a little bit of it to me has to do with the guys that are in our league. And then, I don’t know, maybe the ball’s a little bit hotter, or they have perfected how to make these bats as best as possible.”

On the pitching plan for Saturday’s semifinal against Vanderbilt

“Well, funny thing about tonight, Zander hates me and likes me. We had him hot before we tied the game, I just — I was looking out for him more than anything, and, again, maybe poor execution on my part, or, we had him hot ready to go, because I did not want to leave here without him throwing at least an inning or even at least to a hitter. So, we’ll see where he’s at. It’s not like he can’t pitch tomorrow. We’ll see where he’s at. There’s not a whole lot left in general, so we’ll kind of probably attack tomorrow in a different way. I mean JJ’s on our roster, so maybe we’ll start him. But, anyway, back to my little Zander tangent, I did find his air pods he left in the locker room in here, so hopefully those two things cancel each other out.”

On if Reese Chapman is making them think about using him as the full time DH

“Yeah, I think so. I think, whether it’s him being relaxed in the box or the relaxed feeling he gives the coaching staff that you’re going to get a competitive at-bat. And it’s a well-rounded situation, whether it be able to adjust with two strikes, he can certainly get a bunt down as he done a couple times for us. Then, it’s not like the other guys aren’t like this, but you could hear it in Blake’s voice, like those guys got a lot of respect for him. Again, just how he goes about his business and then also his ability.”

On keys to winning on Saturday

“Get some rest tonight. That was an emotional game. Again, maybe I’m to blame, but I said it out there, I think this is a tough tournament, with what lies ahead and you got to manage things a little bit. But I just don’t see how it’s a bad thing for either team to be involved in a game where everybody’s hooting and hollering. I don’t know what triggered it, but the one thing was the crowd was loud, I know that. So, to me, that’s really good experience. The catch of the whole thing is, kind of like these guys alluded to, now you got to calm down and you got to play baseball. To me, I may be wrong, but the last three innings was just good baseball, and we were fortunate that something happened in our favor, it certainly could have gone the other way as well. So, get some rest and then we’ll kind of see where we’re at. Like I said, maybe we’ll attack the thing of a little bit of a unique fashion.”

On Cannon Peebles at and behind the plate

“Yeah it was huge. He’s kind of been labeled our RBI guy off the bench, and he’s done well in those situations where there’s a guy at third or potential to get an RBI, and the one thing you always get out of him is some fight in the box. I’m pleased that he’s gotten past the, I don’t know what you would call it, but the over extending the fight. He’s such a Pete Rose-type baseball player, and if that tilts too much to the extreme, maybe there’s a little too much fire and a little too much tension ala Drew Gilbert sometimes, but when he kind of gets it back to center you always know you’re going to get a fight at the plate. Then he certainly is capable behind the plate when he’s catching as well. Has the arm to boot. So it’s nice having that option, and it’s also nice at this point, I don’t know, and again I’m not trying to — I don’t know that we’ve sorted, the coaching staff has got it sorted exactly where everybody needs to be, but it’s nice the picture is kind of clearing to where, this guy belongs in this spot, this guy’s role, this guy’s role, and that way the kids can come to the park knowing what’s expected and we’ll see what we can get.”

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