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What Opposing Coaches Said About Tennessee Baseball During Knoxville Regional

Photo via Southern Miss Athletics

Tennessee baseball is headed back to the super regionals after sweeping its way through the Knoxville Regional over the weekend.

Tony Vitello’s squad knocked off Northern Kentucky 9-3 in their first NCAA Tournament game and followed it up with a 12-6 victory over Indiana

The Vols’ regional clinching win came over the same team they defeated to advance to the College World Series last season— Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles led through five innings before Tennessee scored the game’s final 10 runs to earn a 12-3 victory.

Here’s what Northern Kentucky coach Dizzy Payton, Indiana coach Jeff Mercer and Southern Miss coach Christian Ostrander said about the Vols during the Knoxville Regional.

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Dizzy Payton

Opening statement

“That’s a good opponent we just faced, and our guys came out swinging. (We) made some uncharacteristic mental mistakes, but I thought we fought hard all the way through.”

On how the pitchers performed against Tennessee

“Obviously, it’s a really good line-up, but it’s just like any other hitter. You have to keep them off-balance. Like I said earlier, we did some uncharacteristic things. [Tanner] Gillis had four walks, that’s pretty uncharacteristic of him. It’s just keeping them off-balance and going at them. Like Nick [McClanahan] said, any good hitter, you want to get them out on the inside, and some of our guys were able to do that.”

On what makes AJ Causey a difficult pitcher to face

“It looked like he was throwing a wiffle ball, to me. I don’t get to stand in the box, but that thing is pretty funky, and like I said earlier, the number one thing is keeping people offbalance, and he did that. The differential between his fastball and his slider is huge, and it’s hard to stay on that and it’s hard to cover both sides of the plate.”

Jeff Mercer

Opening statement

“You kind of look at that game holistically, and obviously Tennessee is a great team. They’re number one for a reason. The difference really is the free bases on our part, and we left guys on bases offensively, so the game is decided in that way. Most typical games are. This is not an abstract thought by any stretch. You left guys on base, and obviously on the mound they had too many free bases. Give them credit. They obviously forced the issue enormous against a really scrappy team in a complete lineup that was really dangerous at the top. Today you have to know that you signed up for a full day’s work. You take a lead that early, it’s kind of like in basketball. Teams are going to make a run at you, and in Hoover we knew dang well that they were going to make their run at us. Fortunately, Combs (Aaron) was good enough to finish that thing off, and the margin’s one. Tonight, it’s six, but it’s kind of all the same if you’re in our spot. Again, for fans, they may see it differently, but at this point they’re all closely contested games, and we’d like to have one more than the other team at the end and forced our hand in that regard. They didn’t expand and chase and got into good counts and did damage when they got there. Really the difference in the game kind of on both sides of the ball, obviously, free bases from the pitching staff and then offensively we left too many guys on base.”

On Tennessee’s offense in the second and third inning and whether they handled the atmosphere well

“I don’t know that the noise necessarily is the precursor to those things. Connor (Foley) is a terrific talent and has been wonderful for us, but it’s an issue that he’s battled throughout the course of the year. That’s not the first time he’s had some free bases. Obviously, he throws hard and he has really good stuff, but they’re accustomed to that. They play with that on a regular basis. You’re behind in the count and you kind of know a fastball is coming and you get multiple breaking balls in succession you have a good chance of hitting the ball hard, and they did. I thought he held his composure fine. I thought he was competitive. It’s just he has to continue to develop more skill. He’s very talented, but he’s newer to pitching and has to continue to develop more skill in that regard. Obviously, they’re very talented, extremely talented. Hit the ball really hard, consistent to the big part of the field. They get some balls up to their pull side on off-speed pitches like good hitters do. All the credit to them, excellent offense. They are for a reason. Connor, it wasn’t that he wasn’t competitive. I didn’t think he was sped up or anything. It’s just something that he has to continue to battle and get better at, and you’re playing a great team, and they’ll make you pay for those mistakes. At times, you can be talented and you can overwhelm somebody with stuff and velocity, and you’re just not going to do that with a team like this.”

Christian Ostrander

Opening statement

“First, just want to congratulate Coach Vitello and his staff and Tennessee on the championship, and best luck to them moving forward. Very good ball club. Just proud of our guys, long day today. Came out and played a really good game against Indiana earlier today and got the chance to keep playing. Knew it was going to be tough and thought our guys fought, just ran out of gas a little bit there at the end. Nothing to be ashamed of, for sure, and I know these guys have a lot to be proud of.”

On what makes this year’s Tennessee team different from last season

“Well, they have more experience. Those guys that were in it last year coming back, they just have another level of experience and maturity. It’s just very long; it’s a long lineup. You can’t catch your breath, you have to execute, and if you give them a little bit of something they can hurt you because they can do so many things. It’s just a very, very, very good lineup and a very good program, very good team. They’re going to be a handful for whoever catches them next for sure.”

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