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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Won SEC Tournament Championship

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

Tennessee baseball knocked off LSU 4-3 on Sunday afternoon to win the SEC Tournament Championship for the second time in three years.

The Vols dropped their tournament opener against Vanderbilt before reeling off wins against Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and LSU to win the tournament title.

Following the win, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed the pitching staff’s big week, having success in Hoover again and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Dylan Loy Dominance Pushes Tennessee Past LSU In SEC Tournament Championship

Opening statement

“Blessed to have Frank Anderson be a part of our staff with pitching, worked out the way it did, multiple guys did some special things, and being in that dugout is reminiscent for me of Camden a couple years ago. Ens was on the team and we were playing Florida. Didn’t have a starter ready to go and he was nothing short of spectacular. And Zander did it for us out of that dugout, and now Loy today.

Certainly the plan was to see how many outs he could get, and he far exceeded expectations. And overall the tournament was out standing in part because LSU is the hottest team in the country and they didn’t stop today in my opinion. They played really good ball, and maybe just ran out of time because that thing was obviously very hairy at the end.”

On Kirby Connell’s successful relief appearance

“He got the biggest cheer out of anybody the entire weekend, the fans included, and there were some big ones. It shows you how much people enjoy the way he operates his business at our park. If you’re at our home games, you see it, and how he is in the community and how he is when he competes.

If you look at what he did — I know Blake Burke won the MVP of the tournament, you’ve got to give it to somebody, and I know he had a couple big hits but I think more than anything, he was one of our best leaders.

But Kirby pitched four times this tournament and was massive for us, and you know, it’s always difficult knowing you’ve got to come in here and answer questions as a coach, especially when you have huge fan bases because even when the game is over, I’m kind of thinking about four or five things I wish I would have done different.

I’m building up to the point, you could argue, we could have just left him out there and I think he had what it took to finish the game.”

On the TV broadcast showing AJ Russell talking to trainer Jeff Wood after he exited the game

“I don’t know what the broadcast showed but Woody and him were going to sync up, regardless, how do you feel and where are you at with everything.

I think he was wanting to press the issue and throw a certain amount of pitches or probably go until maybe he’s in a jam. We kind of knew all long, we wanted him to start the game. Give us a little bit of calmness because we know how he competes and he’ll throw strikes, and he did that. Obviously he gives up the home run but a lot of people have done that to Mr. Jones. It’s kind of the cost of doing business, throwing strikes trite interest.

D-Loy, he was down there, and I don’t know if he feels this way, but if I’m him, I’m itching to get in that game last night. And there were a couple moments where it’s like next hitter, you’re in, and he never came in the game. Not only did he get his work in but, that anticipation of getting out there was probably great.

But overall he reminded me of Stam. I said it to ESPN out there, copy the answer; that both those guys pitch with a lot of fire. But you’ve got to control it. And it was this fun balance. Same thing, Combs, at times last year, he would get so fired up like he did after he record the first out tout there that he would forget there’s something else to do after that. He’s about as wild as his walkout song, but he seems to have he loved a little bit where he can kind of, you know, manage those emotions and that passion.”

On fighting out of the loser’s bracket to win

“Well, I think that we balanced out other than Kirby who probably wants to be out there every day. We balance the workload pretty well, even behind the plate with Cal would be the other spot.

The other guys just need to play. You’re not going to feel good this time of year. That’s not going to happen. And kudos to Beth, our nutritionist. She was a maniac all week long with the food and the hydration and everything else, and of course Q helps her out, our strength coach.

But you know, it helped us to experience a lot of the different things that we did. We did some foolish things, and we pointed those out, and we also accomplished a lot. If you need to know where we stand, you look at what we were able to survive.

First of all, Vanderbilt beat our brains in but we beat Texas A&M. No one is going to enjoy going there, at all. Mississippi State is worthy of a host. We have all seen Starkville. No one is going to enjoy going there. And this is the hottest team in the country that we were able to beat today.

So I think kind of what we were able to overcome in this tournament, which you have to do every year to win it, tells you a lot about yourself. It should build some confidence.”

On what’s led to the growth of the pitching staff

“Just Frank. I say it. I don’t owe him anything. Now that we’ve been through a lot of this phone call and this text message and under the radar and working with administration, this is where he’s going to finish his career if I can speak for him.

So I don’t have any reason to say it other than I’m being honest with you when you say it. If you want, look at what he did for Augie. Look at what he did for a legendary coast at Texas Tech; what he did for Houston Baseball when he was there. Blessed to have him.

Now, Coach E is pretty dang good with those catchers, and it takes two to tangos. Our peeps caught tremendously well receiving-wise and just Cal controlling the game the way he did does. There’s a lot that goes into it, but it starts with Coach Anderson. You know, your players have to meet you in the middle and I’ve used the word and I want to use it again, “willing” — the “willingness” out of the pitching staff to take the ball. And there’s no complaints out of Zander that he got hot, or Dylan that he got hot and didn’t get in the game. You had Snead and Stam wanted to go in the game today and that was not going to happen.

So it’s a good approach out of this group, which has made it enjoyable, like we said the other night to, come to work.”

On his perception of the pitching staff’s depth entering the week

“One thing, I don’t think it mattered but I kept saying, especially with this group that we are facing today, and the crowd gets excited, we don’t need zero. Don’t put that pressure on yourselves. We just need you to go out and throw strikes, and it’s a staple of Coach A’s staff.

So if you are talking about throwing strikes and guys that are capable of going, we had no questions about our depth. But what version are you going to get out of each guy? Dylan has been very consistent. He’s kind of been our Zander this year.

But it is his first postseason effort, so you wonder a little bit what’s it like. Are we going to get the Marcus Phillips where we have to calm him down with his attitude, or kind of like, Hey, dude, none of our guys want to hit off you. And we saw the version we got. We probably need to meet a little in the middle there.

Behnke, we did not want to use him there again because of how he threw the other night. He left it all out there, and that’s the best version of him. So again it was just a matter of stay true to yourself because it is a pretty good group and a pretty deep group when they do.”

On if there’s any commonality between Tennessee’s success in Hoover

“Tuesday’s stuff, and we draw that last year. I think it was Lonsing (ph) was incredible against us after we chased him really early. So you’re going to run into that guy. He’s going to get you or you’re going to get him. It just kind of works out that way.

And you know, as far as the main part of your question, having success, I don’t really have an answer for it other than there’s been good leadership on our teams. Fergie and Liam were so fun to be around in the middle of the diamond as our middle infield in ’21. And we come back the next year and all the guys that worked so hard and cheered hard for those guys that got us in the final where Arkansas beat us, we’re now getting to play, and they relish in that opportunity.

They kind of educated — that’s when — the first time came in the program in 2022 where the players started to become as much of the teachers as the coaches are. So there’s been a nice little lineage, and blessed to be around good leadership.”

On the willingness of the pitching staff to do whatever is asked of them

“I think like anything, there’s probably no one magic answer. I think part of it is the makeup or the personality of the kids and then you’ve got to trust, there’s a lot of different philosophies.

But if you’re wearing purple and gold and you’ve got to trust what those guys are saying. If you are wearing orange, you have to trust what we have to say, and it makes everything better when you do.

I think nature of the personalities and then recognizing they have a lot of people that are fairly skilled, at the very least, at coaching them but also really care about them, too.

There’s been good communication, good going back-and-forth, and there’s been a hunger to improve and get better, and maybe one of the special ingredients in there is there’s a lot up for grabs this year coming into the year. You name it.

We went into the opening weekend, I think, with some people excited about our team but Drew Beam was the only, if you were going to reference the past, he was the one for sure constant that we knew we wanted to do, and Kirby out of the pen. But there was a lot up for grabs. I think it’s good for players to have that hunger and something to work for.”

On likely being the No. 1 overall seed, his perception of that

“I think it’s difficult for any team to win in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s also very difficult to win this tournament because of the caliber of athlete that you’re surrounded by, and we were able to do that. Then to me, and I’m not trying to pat ourselves on the back.

But one of the things I always thought as a little kid, big sports fan, Big Ten baseball, I don’t think they had a tournament back then but it was admonish impressive for Indiana or Michigan to win the regular season because it’s a huge body of work. We were able to do that in one of the most competitive amateur lesion of any sport.

So we did that but it’s over with, and we were able to do this, and it’s over with. So this should give you confidence. No one can take it away from you, but it’s time to move on to the next thing. There’s no point about talking about a Super Regional for us or any of the top eight seed because it’s all about next weekend.

We’ll get back. We have Q and Beth, so our players, that won’t be an excuse. But we’ll be playing good teams that are capable of beating us, so we’ll just have to go out there and win on Friday, whoever the committee wants us to play, and then we’ll see what’s going on on Saturday afternoon. If anything, at least you know it will be rowdy in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.”

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