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What Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Beat Vanderbilt To Advance To SEC Championship

Tony Vitello in Tennessee Dugout // Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball defeated Vanderbilt 6-4 in the SEC Tournament Semifinals on Saturday evening to advance to the championship game against LSU on Sunday.

Following the game, Vitello discussed Marcus Phillips coming through in a big moment on the mound, what they have left in the tank against LSU and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Tennessee Baseball Gets Revenge Against LSU To Advance To SEC Championship

Opening statement

“Obviously if you’re fortunate enough to get to this portion of the tournament, pitching is at a premium, as is energy level and stuff like that. You just got to grit it out, and our team followed Zander’s lead today. So we were blessed to have him out there and he pretty much kind of in the Beam category can know what to expect, but I think he was even better tonight and kind of built off of last time out. So it was good the team followed him.

And then Chris Burke and I were talking, and some other guys, too, chimed in. If you don’t think you got it perfectly lined up, that means someone has got to — I hesitate to say elevate, but be the best version of themselves or at least be true to themselves, and Peebles certainly was that, as was Bargo, but Marcus Phillips is the one I’m getting at.

He’s from the Dakotas and he hasn’t played a whole lot. He’s working on presence and confidence and self-belief and probably — or definitely did overdo it in that one situation where he got out of the bases-loaded jam, but I don’t think anybody can take away from him how he was throwing the ball tonight, and ultimately, that helped us keep a lead against a team that was swinging it as good as anybody in the tournament, I think.”

On what was different for Marcus Phillips compared to Wednesday

“I think just the conviction. You can kind of see it when he’s steering it in there. It’s been pretty cool that as long as it was official, I think that makes in seven years nine guys that have thrown a hundred or — it’s a pretty good stat, whatever it is. But that’s never been Frank’s emphasis and it certainly isn’t mine. But with him in particular, the harder he throws the better he throws because he’s so big and strong and the stuff is so good. But you can kind of see when he’s guiding it in there as opposed to letting it rip. It can come for different pitchers too. Obviously Zander’s stuff is different, but the way I heard him describe it was the last time he faced this team he was kind of guiding some pitches in. They end up bleeding over the middle of the plate, and tonight they got into some balls, we played good defense behind him. But you could see it from the get-go that it was coming out of his hand with conviction, which at the end of the day, that’s what being a competitor is, is put your best stuff or your best approach out on the field and just see where it gets you.”

On if six SEC teams should host, if 11 should make the NCAA Tournament

“I think the host sites is a definite yes because if you look at the way those rosters are stacked up and the fan bases they’re going to have, it’s better for college baseball, and they have earned it by surviving this league.

Then I think it is a unique year. It’s going to be an interesting deal when we add Texas and Oklahoma next year. But for this year in particular, there are 11 teams that have shown — and part of it was some guys — I think you all voiced your opinion, that they needed to show well here and I think it went that way. So I think you kind of have the maximum amount of teams that we would have.

I’m stealing a quote from a video coordinator of ours, so if anyone doesn’t like it, it’s not my fault, but just compare. I’m not in that room, but if you’re sitting there, compare those teams you’re talking about to the other options and the schedule they have played and the talent they have on the roster, and I’m willing to bet all those 11 teams are better than the other options.”

On why they decided to stick with Marcus Phillips with the bases loaded in the eighth inning

“Tough one to answer other than just gut feel. I mean, there was — you know, we had Loy down there hot and he was — it was a couple times. And he was even told, You’re going to get this guy, and then we just stuck with him, and part of it is just communication with Frank, and a lot of times you just got to go with your gut. But I like it better in the corner when Coach Elander speaks up from a catcher’s point of view and what he’s seeing. It’s a little easier when you’re in that spot because you’re not so emotional and you’re not stressing, well, what if I make the wrong decision and what if not.

And then Frank’s feedback is outstanding because he’s the one calling pitches. We’ve probably done that more this year than ever by nature of our staff where we’ve just kind of communicated and made a group decision. He certainly made it difficult to take him out after that first inning, but there were some dicey moments in there where obviously we’re glad we stuck with him. He grew up a lot today. It was good.”

On if he’s able to enjoy making the SEC Championship for the third time in four years

“Not really. There’s been so much emotion poured out there the last two nights, and we’ve kind of finished later at night. Then you’re preparing for the next day because it comes pretty quick. This was a little quicker turnaround, it will be even quicker tomorrow. It’s a fun game to be a part of. The fan situation is insane. LSU, I think we know what they will be cooking out there in the parking lot. I wish I had time to have some of it. But you know what their fan base will be like. I think our folks do a great job. The National Anthem is always, it gives me chills at this thing. So I think it will be a good final and everyone will kind of have to piece together the pitching, but it’s hard to worry about anything other than tomorrow. We’ll get our guys ready, I mean, you bring up — I go on a dang tangent with you here — but when you get into the postseason there’s good teams and one team wins and the other team doesn’t. So, I think the fatigue thing can be beaten to death a little bit. At least I know from my experience with a couple of the teams that I’ve been a part of, only once can I remember where I think it was really an issue. And that was an Arkansas team that really didn’t get home until Tuesday, and then we played a game until 3:30 a.m. because of the rain, and I mean the regional was just a hot mess. And we also had Oral Roberts as a four seed, which, if you guys are interested, I know at least one guy will be interested in here, do a little research on when Oral Roberts is your four seed how it goes, because they’re not a four seed, but they’re a four seed, so do research on that deal there. So, other times it just, you get beat. Everybody’s a little tired and everyone’s logged a bunch of innings and stuff like that. We’re blessed to be in the final, sure, I’m sure there’s some teams at home getting a little extra rest, but when next week starts, by then, everybody should be pretty juiced up and pretty fresh, and it will be a matter of how do you do on that given day. I think one thing that will benefit us regardless of how tomorrow goes is we’ve spaced out our pitching pretty well. Yesterday I talked about how willing our staff is. Kirby was not on the list, I said if you want, you can face Hines. He said, I’ll be good to go. I want to face more than that. And Snead was not on the list, and he came to me before the game and said, I want to pitch today. Those are the two guys that finished the game. I think that kind of represents how we’ve been able to piece that pitching together.”

On LSU being a different team compared to the last time they played them

“Yeah, they’re different. You will look at it and reflect on it, but I don’t think — I don’t know what they will have, I don’t know that we’ll have the benefit of worrying too much about matchups from the pitching end of things. These guys see so many good arms, it’s funny, in the dugout it’s, like, Don’t you remember facing guy, and more times than not they don’t. Blake Burke said it the other day, I wish I had a good memory. But their job isn’t to study these guys, it’s just to go play. That’s kind of what this time of year is anyway. The scouting report stuff helps and there might be split second decisions that need to be made, but the athletes will determine it out on the field. The one thing about playing them tomorrow is they had some people travel with ’em but it will be 50/50 or 40/40 with 20 percent of other people in here. They will have their fans with ’em, which I think helps them in this tournament and other tournaments, but also they are a different team, they’re playing better right now and have found themselves a little bit, which is good.”

On if he anticipates AJ Russell throwing against LSU

“Yeah, we talked about let’s not push it today. He kind of flirted back and forth with it, and then at the worst we talked about either Monday or Tuesday facing hitters. We’re past the point of throwing a bullpen to prepare, so he’s ready for next Friday, that’s the goal. We’ll focus on whatever he’s got to do to be ready for next Friday. Maybe it will be a conversation with him in the morning or even after he plays catch. So were you just talking about the other pitchers?”

On what other pitchers are available

“We’ll use a couple guys and then we’ll probably go to you, to be honest with you. Or, you know, who knows, Christian Moore thinks he’s available — he’s not — but there’s a couple position guys that could be called on and, hey, we’ll approach it as intelligently as we see fit, it would be disrespectful to not put your best foot forward, but at the same time I don’t think we’re looking to gas anybody out tomorrow that’s already put in good work for us in this tournament and got us to this point. So some guys will have to look at Mr. Andrew Behnke and Marcus Phillips and say, I can do that as well.”

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