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Everything Tennessee HC Tony Vitello Said Previewing Knoxville Super Regional

Tony Vitello in Tennessee Dugout // Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello met with the media on Wednesday afternoon ahead of this weekend’s Knoxville Super Regional series against Evansville.

Vitello discussed what stands out about the Purple Aces, being big favorites and more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Tennessee RHP AJ Russell Likely Done For The Season

Onwhat he has seen from Evansville while scouting the Aces

“They’re an older team. Certainly can swing the bat well. And those two things kind of go hand in hand. They’ve got a lot of players that have been there for a while and have accumulated some reps. And then also pitching, it kind of starts with their lefty, was conference pitcher of the year as a freshman. And they’ve leaned on their closer, who has got a real good breaking ball, a lot. So there’s a lot of pieces there. Center fielder can run down a ball as good as anybody. There’s a lot of pieces there that are similar to the good teams in our league. 

And the one way they’ve done it, I’ve known Wes or Coach Carroll for a long time. He’s always been real good at kind of running around beating the bushes and finding guys that he knows are going to develop into something even better than they already are. And so that’s kind of been the makeup of that team is there’s a lot of guys who have developed and become even better than they are and all together. It makes for a really good team.”

On if Evansville reminds him of any SEC teams Tennessee faced this season

“A little bit of Kentucky with the well-balanced offense. They play with a real fun style. I think that’s kind of one thing that gets lost in the mix. These game times, ESPN is, I assume, the one that has to juggle (the game times), there’s only so many slots. And you got (Florida star Jac) Caglianone and you got these guys, so where are you going put everybody? But I think the one thing in my conversations yesterday, I kept reminding people their style of play is fun. They’re very confident, they get after it and play hard. So on top of the talent that’s there, they got a style of play too that makes them, maybe, the sum better than the parts. And I think that’s something that was entertaining for the folks that were out east watching their regional, which was highly competitive. And then again, something that’s kind of been their engine to help them go. So off the bat, just kind of that (Kentucky) team would be one that sticks out. I’m sure there’s other similarities in certain categories.”

If he was hoping for later start times for the Tennessee-Evansville Super Regional

“No, like I said, honestly what we wanted was to play on Friday. And I’m sure all of our guys, that’s the coaching staff, all the guys will take extra rest if they can have it. But it helps you kind of stay in a rhythm a little bit. We were able to replicate our week — we did last week — this week without the travel back from Hoover. So to us it was good to play on Friday. And again, we know exactly what’s going on with what games are out there. I mean, there’s some exciting matchups, so everybody’s got to kind of go somewhere. I think seedings kind of maybe plays into it at times, but that’s overrated. If you’re still playing, you’ve got the talent, but you’ve also got the locker room thing going on, so you’ve got a good group. And the seeding does matter in a regional because there’s 1, 2, 3, 4 and they sort it out and it can affect pitching and things like that. But this weekend, all it is is a series. It’s either a road series or a home series, but either way it’s a series against two great teams at all the sites and we’re just blessed that we’re playing at home here. We’ll play whatever time. Our fans will show out. We ain’t got Friday to worry about, but it’ll be like a football Saturday around here at 11 (a.m. ET for Game 2). Only difference is I won’t get to have fun. We’ll have to work. Again, happy to be on our field, happy to be playing on Friday. But once the first pitch is thrown, like all the other sites, it’s going be two teams hooking it up.”

On if the experience of the veterans on the team can help this time of year

“Yeah, I do. I think even, you know, like Billy’s (Amick) kind of been a part of it from a different angle. Some other guys are like that, too. Cannon (Peebles), you kind of see what it looks like and you know how to navigate through situations a little better if you have experienced them. But I think really for the dugout and the whole from our side, you lean so heavily on our preparation from our league, from being in Hoover and then last weekend, it’s different. You know, it’s different.  Even though you just got done with the conference tournament, the regional’s different, the NCAA now is running it instead of the SEC. And there’s little subtle differences that you need to get outta your comfort zone and adjust to. And I’m a big routine guy. I want our guys to have routines, but you’re gonna have to adjust them this time of year to things that are a little quirky because it is the NCAA Tournament.”

On his message to this team and they prepare to face a No. 4 seed who is perceived as an underdog:

“Yeah, fortunately that noise doesn’t get to me. Like I said, at this point the seeding doesn’t matter. You’re either good enough to be at this spot or you’re not and you don’t get any extra credit. We’re not alternating sites. You don’t get to be home team the whole weekend. It’s whether you’re on your field or not. So that’s the benefit we see as it relates to the matchup. But they know what a hostile environment looks like from where they just came from. That’s one of the more fun, you know, environments (East Carolina) really in all of college baseball.

“And then to me, I’m just ready to get on and play a series. ‘Cause last week it was the opposite. What about being a this seed or that seed for us? And you know, again, to me now that the regionals are over where you slate 1, 2, 3, 4, they don’t matter. At the start of the tournament, you actually, I think 75% are the top eight. So to me you either wanna be in the top 16, it’s a little better to be in the top eight by percentage and then after that you can throw the rest of it out the windows from what I think. Those regionals are not about let’s get the very best with the, you know, bottom and things like that. It’s the regionals and it’s based off travel and things like that. But they went to a very tough place and beat an extremely well-coached team along with, you know, beating another team that is pretty dang good too.”

On what he anticipates the toughest part of the super regional being this weekend

“I think controlling the adrenaline and intensity of the whole deal. I think our crowd helps us a ton. You gotta get a little cautious though about getting too amped up and I think our guys handled it great. Again, to me being the second weekend in a row back home in a playoff environment should help our guys have a vision of what it looks like and how to handle it. But to me, the one negative example from last weekend would be we’re in a position to finish or win the regional against a good team on Sunday night in Southern Miss. And our guys were a little too amped up about finish the job or whatever cliche you want to throw out there. And for about three or four innings there was a little too much tension. So whether it’s try hard or tension or too much adrenaline, those are things that come with the nature of it being a postseason game and playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd. So our guys need to enjoy it ’cause they’ve worked hard to get here and then they just need to play ball.”

On if he can take a step back and appreciate how far the program has come

“Not at this time. I don’t think it’s easy for me and maybe it’s not even the time. I do think from some of the conversations we had with the TV folks from last weekend. It was like, where are we now compared to (back then). There have been stages here. I think we’ve stayed pretty consistent on how we wanna approach the game and recruiting and everything else. But when we first got here, we needed to beat down the door, if not kick it down as far as being competitive in the league and being relevant and getting respect from people and trying to get to the next stage, whether it be regional or whatever, so our program knows what it’s about and we’re far from figuring things out with our facility, recruiting. We want to get better as far as achievements on the field, but we are at a spot now where we feel like we can work, put all of our effort into being the best program we can be as opposed to maybe kind of being this wild group of guys when we first got here, of being on a mission just to do everything, keep our jobs, be relevant, be competitive, be somebody that gains respect from people that they play. So things have changed a little bit.”

On if there’s any further update on AJ Russell

“No, nothing specific as far as what the next step will be for him, but he’ll be unavailable. So it’s kind of Coach Russell or Coach AJ for now kind of as Billy did for a couple weeks there. And I don’t mean make light of health or anything like that. I mean he’s still involved in practice and things like that right now, but he’s kind of assumed a role in the dugout where he takes on some other duties and to me I enjoy being around him. So for now that’s his task and we’ll see where we get but more than likely would be shut down for the year.”

On what duties Russell has been handling in the dugout

“Chart stuff and then just communicate, answering questions we have. One more guy you can run stuff through or go to this end of the dugout and get this guy ready or with our locker room being right there, sometimes our guys disappear and you’re looking for a guy to pinch hit or send down to the bullpen or something like that. So it can be as simple as having a guy help you in that situation.”

On what’s impressed him about Evansville LHP Kenton Deverman and OF Mark Shallenberger and Kip Fougerousse

“I mean Shallenberger has always been good and now again he’s got so many repetitions that he can make argument for most valuable player in their offense. But like we talked about Indiana, in specific last weekend, that offense is kind of one through nine and then even Southern Miss, 7-8-9 kind of gave us big time headaches in that game. So again, you get to this point it’s not blowing smoke, it’s a fact. You know that everybody in the lineup is capable of doing damage but he kind of leads the way. And with Deverman, I mean he’s lefty— you kind of make jokes about quirky lefty and stuff like that. He’s about as good of an athlete out there defensively as you’re going to find. So you know his pitching numbers and the awards, the accolades he got in the league this year speak for themselves on the pitching end. But he also is a guy that’s got a good pickoff move, can really field this position and has some savvy to mix things up a little bit on the mound. So he’s got a full arsenal.”

On if they have certain roles they like individually for Andrew Behnke, Dylan Loy and Marcus Phillips

“The one difference between this and Hoover is you have a vision of where you’re at. It’s similar to a conference series or we played those three non-conference areas where it’s a maximum of three games, it’s a race to get to two wins. So it does kind of change the way you play out each game. So with how those guys have been throwing, I think it just kind of puts them in a group where we trust them and also there’s no excuses from our end or their end. They’ve been in a little rhythm where they’ve been, they’ve been pitching and again to throw in Hoover is one thing, but to throw last week is another. So I’d be foolish or remiss to say the pitching worked out perfect last week. But it was nice to not overextend anyone really. And also get everybody out there and kind of stay in a little bit of a rhythm. And I thought the way those guys had the ball, obviously Benke was outstanding, but the way those guys after him Loy and Phillips had the ball coming out of their hand was more of a positive than anything.”

On if he’s ever seen a walk up song affect a crowd the way Billy Amick’s does

“Yeah, it was a much smaller crowd, but at Missouri we had Zane Taylor, I think it was the theme to Boondock Saints, which I don’t think our guys watch movies anymore and they certainly probably— that one’s old. But that was a fun one, and it was a fun walkout song for him. And then we have faced guys like (David) Marshon who’s a phenomenal athlete at Mississippi State and a couple of the ones this weekend, the guys are humming in the locker room because it’s a song they hadn’t heard in a while or ever. And so yeah, everyone in the lineup teams we play, there’s usually one or two in there that are pretty catchy. But I like Billy’s when it’s in our stadium, but it’s hard not to say in Blades of Glory if that’s the movie. That scene might be just as good as a Billy at-bat, I guess it depends what movie you’re in.”

On the added challenge of playing good defense against a good hitting team

“I think it’s about attacking the strike zone at all times and both staffs are going to try and do that and then with that comes knowing that the other team can do damage. So how confident and convicted can you stay at what you’re trying to do as a particular pitcher? Because we’ve gotten to the point this year, like I said, we’re not gonna run you out there unless we trust you. But each of our pitchers are different. So they need to be convicted in who they are and just present the best version of themselves with the understanding (that) it’s not always gonna go perfect. You’re not gonna get every call a slow roller might find a hole, whatever it might be. So the fact that they’re more talented than the average team is something that’s kind of out of our control. And I would like to hope that our pitchers see it out of their control too, and again are convicted to approach things that presents the best version of themselves.”

On if he wish he had a better walk up song when he played

“I wish I could hit better when I played, but I did like the one that I had and yeah, there’s a little more backstory to it, but nah, I like that. I think it’s fun that the NCAA decided to flip the script a little bit because they used to not allow scripted music for any team and now it makes it more enjoyable. And I think this thing has blown up into something when I was little watching games in Omaha, I didn’t think it would get to this level where there’s so many superstar players to talk about. Like some of the guys you asked about from Evansville and mention Cags (Jac Caglianone) and the music and the crowds.  This is a massive deal and I’m envious of the people that get to be fans of the stadium this weekend. But next best thing will be standing there trying to get some wins.”

On what his walk up song was

“Danzig, ‘Mother.’ You probably don’t know what (that is)?

Reporter: “I don’t”

TV: “Again, a little bit of a backstory, but also criteria for me was pick something unique and for the most part that’s unique.”

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