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What Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Defeated Northern Kentucky To Open Up NCAA Tournament

Tony Vitello against Oklahoma in Arlington // Photo via UT Athletics

Tennessee baseball overcame a first inning deficit to knock off Northern Kentucky 9-3 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Friday night.

Following the game, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed going to AJ Causey early in the game, Billy Amick’s big night and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: What To Know About Tennessee Baseball’s Knoxville Regional Opening Win Over Northern Kentucky

Opening Statement

“Yeah, I don’t have anything special. The guys played pretty good ball tonight. Also, it’s very unique when you start this tournament no matter who you are because the set of circumstances are just different. It is on our home field, so that helps a little bit. They handled that stuff really well, so it benefited them. I think also they knew ahead of time they were going to be in a really competitive game. It’s good for us to get back on the field and compete. Obviously, we needed to rest a little bit after the (SEC) tournament, but the tournament helped us a lot because the fire was hot. Other than us getting our butts kicked in the first game, the fire was hot the entire time. I think the guys, at least we try to let them know, anticipated that being the case tonight. The lineup we’re going to see, the starting pitcher, it’s good to be back in the middle of all this stuff. It’s too much downtime, maybe just for me, but it’s good we get to write our own narrative and less text messages and comments and me getting called Lou Holtz talking about their team and things like that. That’s a real team. There aren’t any bad teams in the tournament. I don’t know what the scores were today, but I’m sure every favorite didn’t win. There will be more chaos tomorrow. This is chaos; it’s very competitive and everybody is dangerous. Now, hopefully our fans, which some of them probably see 9-3, but people that know baseball know how dangerous that lineup is. Our hitters made their pitcher look not as good as he is, because (Tanner) Gillis is a guy. So, maybe that didn’t help a lot.”

On why he made the quick move to AJ Causey in the first inning

“They showed you what they’re capable of doing right away, and every inning matters. We’re trying to win the inning. We ended up not scoring in the first inning, but they’re up one and we want to keep it at one instead of two. If you ask me now that the game is over what your ideal inning is for (Chris) Stamos, it’s replicate what he did in Hoover. We took him out early, he was throwing well enough he could’ve stayed in the game regardless of what inning it was, but in that particular instance we felt like the best thing for us was Causey. He’s ready and willing at all times. At a normal Friday, or game one, the way we’ve used these two guys together we would burn both of them. We made the switch so early the one benefit is you get Stamos out. We’re in a tournament. That was Kirby’s (Connell) last hitter, which I’m sure no one wants Kirby out of the game. We’re in a tournament, and it’ll help that we have Stamos back for whatever role is necessary.”

On the significance of Causey pitching deep into the game after Chris Stamos short outing

“It was massive, and it’s the most pitches he’s thrown in one game. I think at the end, he was still pretty sharp. At least this time, we took him out in the dugout, so he couldn’t give me the sad face or try to fight me on the mound with it. In the tournament, Ben and Clay were talking about it on the broadcast in the first game because we had that on in the office, it’s a tournament. It’s four teams, and every inning kind of has something to do with the next, so what he did for us was enormous.”

On if AJ Russell is on the active roster

“No, he’s not active and probably will get looked at again. We haven’t fast-forwarded there, but just off playing catch, there’s no need to battle the soreness factor, step one, and step two would be to make sure he’s good to go and should be throwing at all. What he did for us on Sunday was great, I think it was obvious, though, with his couple outings he did give us, that he hadn’t really been what his best version of himself is since Texas Tech. If anything, I think it alleviates the cloud, for these guys, too. Not just him, but also us, what is [and] what isn’t. So, at least we are on one side of the fence than the other. Everyone knows we’d rather be fully on the other, but at least there’s some clarity there, so he won’t be active. He’s going to get looked at, and we’ll figure that out.”

On whether he has seen any difference from Billy Amick at the plate the past few games

“I think he’s at times comically the same guy every single day for the most part, regardless of what’s going on. I think it took a while for Christian Moore and Blake Burke to get to that point where they were like that as well. (Hunter) Ensley has kind of always been there, and (Dylan) Dreiling is fiery. Now you have a whole clump of them that I think provide that consistent approach. In this game and in high school, my dad coached in high school, and everybody knows that, sitting on the bench watching those single elimination deals is just insanity. I think our state still does that. I don’t want to misspeak with all of the stuff going through my head. It’s baseball; you need a good sample size to determine what is going on with a guy. Just because that sample size says it doesn’t mean that. (Nick) McClanahan threw as many strikes tonight as I think he has all year. He is outstanding. Anything can happen on any given night, but if you’re going to take a step back and judge where a guy is at as a player, to be fair you’re going to need a decent sample size to do so.”

On what stands out about Indiana

“At first you hear all of these things, and I was dreading people texting me about music. All of this stuff is going on all week, I don’t listen to it, but if it is loud enough, you hear. People claiming that either they are not good, or they shouldn’t be in the tournament is madness. If you peel back the curtain, you have a team that had injuries early in the year that they have had to overcome. Prior to those injuries, there is a lot of deserved hype behind the team. There are a bunch of future big leaguers on the team. They have got a pretty proud winning tradition too. They have been here before, and they are a well-coached group. So, I think as they work through some issues, as we did too early in the year, they have started to find themselves. They are a complete team, I bet it just looks different from how they mapped it out in August. They are gutsy. Big-time stuff effort they got out of their starters, and the lineup one through nine did damage today. The one category that was brought up was doubles, but they are a well-balanced team.”

On the interaction between AJ Causey and Chris Stamos when switching positions.

“He was heated. You want the delicate balance. On a personal note, these guys have made it so fun for me because what you want is the guy that is getting pinch hit for to be absolutely furious because he wants to be in the box, but furious for two seconds and then recognize that ‘I am his teammate and I have a job to do.’ Then his teammate is about to take his spot, and we are all better off if that guy does well so you might as well support him and give him some advice or good vibes or whatever it might be. There was a moment of madness out there, but it was a quick moment and his teammates helped him and he did it too. That’s why I love that guy being on our team, man.”

On the long break between SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament

“They earned the Monday off, and then I think the way we orchestrated-don’t roll your eyes Billy- I think we have mapped out a really good week. A good balance of work but rest, and we explained to them stuff that was going on to prepare them, but we didn’t have a twohour meeting or anything. So, I think that part was maybe easier but it’s just who is going to write your narrative. I have met with a couple guys in the office, and I don’t know if it had any benefit, but at the very least it gave me peace of mind because instead of sitting back and being frustrated we addressed some things that were out there with a couple guys. Long story short, the maturity and leadership on this team, I assume that they are writing their own narrative, but there are a lot of narratives these days with these kids and their phones, free time and interviews, which is great they are getting attention, but which one do you want to write or which one do you want to pay attention to so that is where my frustration comes in.”

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