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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Won The Knoxville Regional

Tennessee Baseball Vanderbilt
Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball won its 12th straight regional game on Sunday as the Vols knocked off Southern Miss 12-3 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

The win made it a clean sweep for Tennessee and sends them back to the super regionals for the fourth straight season.

Following the win, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed the strong play of a number of veterans, how early Tennessee teams paved the way for this one and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: See Who Earned Knoxville Regional MVP

Opening statement

“Congrats to our players. They worked hard. Also, congrats to everybody that was a part of our regional tournament. There were some gritty efforts from a young team we just played, a team we played last night that had a lot of injuries and then a team that’s probably doubted by many, for various reasons, in Northern Kentucky. It won’t be their last regional anytime soon. We’re very appreciative of the fact that we were able to survive or win the tournament. The first thing with this game tonight, we deserve a shout out to ‘Vamos Vols’. Those who were at the game know why. Our guys in the dugout know that, but overall all the fans were outstanding. Every time I get critical when I’m kind of watching, like I don’t know why our guys have to clap their hands for Billy in the dugout, but every fan should. Why isn’t everybody doing that? Well, everybody’s doing it tonight and other little adjustments. It’s just fun to see, like I said last night, the whole thing evolve. And it certainly helps our efforts and makes it an advantage to play at home. The game started out to me with a little extra tension, which was very frustrating, and I probably added to it, which detracted from our play, but we were also seeing a good arm. We recruited that kid. We liked that kid a lot out of high school in (JB) Middleton. He’s improved, and he’s certainly well coached. So, it’s not like things were easy, but there was a little tension there interfering. I know the next thing they score, but whatever happened there was Zander (Sechrist) seemed to kind of flip the script a little bit. Everybody decided if this guy’s going to get hit with a line missile and stay out here and compete and also be willing to kind of have that Zander smile like he always does, then we should probably relax a little bit, but also compete the way that he is. Again, I think it flipped a little bit. Then, we give the ball off to (Nate) Snead. Neither of those two guys are the ones that are in here, but they very easily could be. They did an outstanding job and made it easier on our offense tonight.”

On responding quickly to fifth inning adversity

“I’ve been a part of really good teams. We had every reason—you could call an excuse if you want—but we had every incentive, reason or whatever you want to call it to make it a long day of tension, frustration and ‘Why not this? This could have went our way. I just drove that ball all the way to the wall, and it didn’t go over the fence.’ But this team is pretty mature. I think Billy (Amick) had really mature answers when kind of asked about our team in particular and what the approach is. I think it’s a balanced lineup. It’s a balanced pitching staff, but it’s also a balanced mindset, which makes things easier on us. Sometimes, we just have to check ourselves as coaches and make sure we’re in line with these guys’ personalities. This was not a 12-3 game; we kind of pulled away there at the end, but there was some good experience in each of those three games that we had that I think can help prepare us for things that are ahead.”

On the bottom of the lineup having success

“It just makes it another section. I can’t say it’s the middle of the order, because it’s not the middle of the order. But they’re all sections. I mean, Christian Moore is also not a leadoff hitter. We’ve got pretty good sections in there. Dean got interviewed last night. The K-State game sticks out where the offense revolved around his spot in the order. I think he was maybe in the six hole or eight hole that night, and it can vary from game to game. Certainly this weekend, we’re talking about it being a complete weekend for the offense. It’s kind of gone that way, too, where Hunter’s kind of in the middle and sometimes it revolves around him. There have been plenty of nights where it revolves around Dylan. Again, the bottom line is I think everyone that we have in there, including Bradke (Lohry) not getting out of the way of a pitch that’s dang near at his neck, everybody in there is looking to make it difficult on the opponent. Anyone in there is certainly capable of doing great things.”

On his confidence level that Hunter Ensley would find a different gear at some point this season

“He’s already shown, and I always say ‘tie goes to the runner,’ which I don’t even know if that’s the rule. I’m as much for competition as anybody, but when you do have experience and we know truly what you can do in games, it does give you an edge. Based off what he did for us last year in so many different situations, you can’t erase that. I personally don’t invest in some of those numbers that y’all pay attention to, and you should. We kind of pay attention to certain things that are just always there. Whether it be taking charge in the outfield, being able to be one of the better center fielders in the country, defensively, being an aggressive and really good baserunner and being a fighter at the plate. The numbers will kind of work themselves out if you’re in there competing your butt off. I kind of wanted to go to Charlie (Taylor) for Billy (Amick), but I’m like, ‘eh it would be nice for Billy to get a hit’. I’m sure he wanted one. If we’re not sitting here doing this interview we’d probably have to play again tomorrow without Billy, but he didn’t necessarily get a hit tonight. That stuff will fluctuate a little bit, but if you have the right approach out there plus some ability, then we’re investing in you for sure.”

On his postgame message to the team

“We didn’t say much in the outfield, because the fans were going nuts and these guys felt good, but the tournament is over with. The guys had some kind of sign or something, and they won it. Kind of like Hoover, they should take pride in it, confidence and certainly enjoy it. I think sometimes, when you work real hard like these guys do, you don’t take a moment to enjoy it and be appreciative of the people that helped get you there, but next weekend is kind of a fresh start for both teams. It will be in Knoxville, and it is a new tournament. It’s got a different label; it’s called super regional, but now it’s a weekend series. It’s one of the reasons why everybody in the country, not just the SEC, takes pride in their conference series and how competitive they can get.”

On Dean Curley’s big weekend

“Dean is certainly competitive, but he’s also very mature. He’s just a unique guy. Some of his comments you don’t make unless you have a lot of wit and you’re comfortable in your own skin and you’re mature. I’m speaking on some comedic things he says, but also some things he says about the game. I love this state, but SoCal produces a lot of good baseball, and he’s from there. He played at a high level, was around a lot of really good people and he comes from a phenomenal family. All of those things are a part of his pedigree, which we are reaping the benefit of that, for sure.”

On the value of subtle defensive plays

“I’m glad you pointed that out, because that will be part of our meeting when we meet on Monday or Tuesday, is the value you can add to a game without being the guy that’s on Twitter or the guy that gets to wear the hat or whatever. [Christian Moore] was incredible defensively tonight. [Kavares Tears] had a game like that where we didn’t get much offensively at all, but he was incredible in the outfield, so good stuff.”

On Tennessee’s undefeated streak through four consecutive regionals

“I think each year is separate; each weekend is separate. We’re so blessed when we’re here. It is difficult on the opponent. Our guys, I think, put in a lot of extra reps and take a lot of pride in the fact this is their workplace, so being at home is one thing, for sure. And then last year, I don’t know. It was unique. I think that was a grudge match in game two, and whoever was going to win that one was certainly going to have an edge. That game was wild; it could have gone either way. Like anything, I don’t think there’s one answer, but I do think each team is different. We have been meeting in this room right here that’s set up for media for seven straight years, and the guys that came here our second and third and fourth year set life up much, much better for these guys that are to my left. Ensley is buddies with some of those guys, but some of those guys set the tone. They made some people angry, made some people question what we are trying to do and crazy stuff. But what we were trying to do is get involved in this. Southern Miss has been doing this for 20 years. Rather than knock on the door, some of these guys decided to try to kick the door in and throw helmets and stuff like that. Not all the best, but it put these two guys to the left in a better position. I think the last three years have been a compound effect of some lessons learned and some things gained by other people that came before these guys.”

On Tennessee’s offense having a lot of success in the sixth inning this season

“That’s a tough one to answer without research, but the immediate response is that these guys are pretty good at trying to figure things out. We’ve talked about Christian Moore at some point. He’s a good athlete, but he’s kind of a puzzle solver too. You’ve seen people turn over the pitching when our lineup turns over or changes the pitching. I think our other guys were like that too. Coach (Josh) Elander puts in a ton of hard work scouting-report wise. I think the middle of the game is when you usually need to make some adjustments and figure some things out. That requires hard work, communication and also the willingness to also try and make some adjustments and figure things out. I think there’s something to that.”

On Zander Sechrist responding to adversity

“He’s a hockey fan, and I don’t know if I should do this anymore, but we mess around at practice and I use the fungo bat as a hockey stick and he’s the goalie. I actually hit him on the knee, and he had a knee save the other day. Maybe we should not do that anymore. He’s a tough kid in his own way. He’s the definition of a quirky lefty, a lovable kid and a great teammate. Somehow, it’s kind of odd how he gets out there and is as much of a competitor as Hunter Ensley and Cal Stark. It’s been fun to be around him, and it’s been really cool to see him evolve as a pitcher in each year that he’s here. That’s why I think our guys have faith in him. You can tell our fans take to him like they do to Charlie (Taylor) as well, and he’s earned that. He’s certainly competitive.”

On how Cal Stark has grown this season

“There has been growth there for four years of his college career. That’s why we recruited him. That’s what his junior college coaches had to say about him. It’s a great program that he comes from. We have a good relationship with those guys, and they were his biggest advertisers. One of those things was he’s going to meet challenges head on. So, we could dissect why he’s gotten better offensively or why he’s gotten better over the course of four years, but I think they all fall under the umbrella of he meets challenges head on. Whether it’s to be better offensively than he was last year, to understand that we feel like we’re as deep as anybody in the country at that catching position, but he obviously wants to be the guy that’s out there the most or dealing with Coach Anderson and his ridiculous standards every day. He’s met any challenge you can imagine head on, and so he’s improved from it.”

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