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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Won Super Regional Opener Over Evansville

Tennessee Baseball
Tennessee Baseball HC Tony Vitello against Vanderbilt in Knoxville. Photo by Rocky Top Insider/Ric Butler.

Tennessee baseball took care of business in the Knoxville Super Regional opener on Friday afternoon, defeating Evansville 11-6 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

The Vols’ pitching was dicey in the win but their lineup came through in a big way as they moved a win away from returning to the College World Series.

Following the win, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello discussed the top five hitters in the lineup having a big day, strong situational hitting and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: How Tennessee Baseball Got It Done In Super Regional Opener

Opening Statement

“Beautiful day at the ballpark with a great crowd and the sun shining. Obviously, the wind was changing all game long but what didn’t change was the competitiveness and exactly what we thought was going to happen happened. Their at-bats were going to be tough, [Kenton] Deverman was going to give us a tough look. We thought with the game on the line, they would go to their guy, [Shane] Harris and our guys did an outstanding job in a bunch of situations just showing some toughness. Good slides around home plate battling with two strikes, making adjustments, and their guys did too. I mean, you got a guy going a hundred miles an hour into the wall and plenty of other situations that you could point out that made it probably a fun game to watch and a stressful game to be in the dugout.”

On the top-five in the order carrying the lineup

“I guess what could be impressive is you start a new week it’s a fresh, you’d like to call it a tournament, but it’s really just a series – but, you could go one of two ways. You could try and do too much or you could try and stay true to who you are. As you said, there’s been kind of a thing there all year long, so you might as well rock and roll with that thing. And good leadership even if the stat sheet doesn’t show you what you’re looking for, what you’re talking about. I think good leadership started right out of the chute today. It was a good vibe.”

On then ability of the team to respond when Evansville score runs

“It’s a difference. It’s a difference between this team and other ones that I’ve been able to be a part of or even sit there, watch my dad’s teams. Even teams that cheer on for, and I’m not talking about just being here with the teams I’ve been a part of, just in general – it’s hard to get punched in in the gut or the mouth. We brag on our league probably too much, not just to us, but all SEC folks like to do that. But it does kind of get you used to getting hit – gut, jaw, whatever you want to call it. Shocked. You got to be able to respond. My point is, I think this group, it’s a difference maker. How they remain calm or try and punch back in situations where the other team does some damage on us. It helps the coaching staff realize it’s a nine-inning game. These leaders kind of help the coaches kind of maintain an even keel mindset to an extent.”

On what allowed them to be so good with situational hitting

“It’s a tricky one because you could do everything you need to do, like CMo’s first at-bat is an example. I mean he scolded that thing and there’s nothing to show for it. So you could do everything you need to and be tough, but not get good results. But I do think it was a byproduct of just toughness. We’ve got some skill, we’ve got physicality throughout the lineup. They do too. They have toughness. But we kind of showed some unique situations I think where guys were willing to make adjustments and a lot of times this year you can see a guy swing out of control or way too big or get frustrated with one thing that happens in the middle of the at-bat and take himself out of it. It was just kind of a word that stuck out to me. So I shared it with the group out there.”

On why they put Ariel Antigua in for Christian Moore in the eighth inning

“We had chaos in there because you’re trying to figure out who to pitch and all that. And then on the other side of the ball offensively. He had some soreness in his leg. I’ll go right next door and be able to speak more specific. But with the lead, Ariel’s been kind of our guy on defense. Sometimes we do it with Dean, sometimes we do it with Billy— based off where the lineup is at. And in this particular occasion we kind of killed two birds with one stone lead. Remove any doubt there with what was going on with soreness and do our thing with Ariel getting in the game and what do you know,  the first hitter hits the right to him.”

On if he expects Moore to play tomorrow

“Yeah, for sure. A hundred percent.”

On what they were seeing from Evansville reliever Shane Harris

“I mean I think there’s kind of two different looks to the breaking ball. I’m not standing in there but he’s good at spinning it and it’s kind of why he’s been their guy, a good amount of saves and a lot of key appearances for him late in the game. But for a reliever, we’ve got a couple guys like this too, a huge amount of decisions. I think he was 8-3 going into the game, so he’s good for a reason and as you saw with (Jakob) Meyer came in after they got more ammo down there in that bullpen. But he is arguably their best piece. So to get anything against him, I think all teams that have played them would tip their cap to us and for us, as you saw it was needed. You can’t sit on what you got are at-bats need to be as competitive as theirs and we just have had to do it off a very, very good pitcher.”

On getting out of the third inning in an unconventional way, its importance

“Yeah, it was. I mean, it’s wild. For those of you that just follow our team, it’s not like we got some kind of crazy cloud above us working some sort of voodoo. Baseball’s like that. Every time you come to the park you see something new and our guys are competing and I think what comes out of that are some unique plays where maybe a guy does something that gives us an advantage there. Like the back pick and then the stolen base situation. It’s kind of funny, I don’t know if it happened with them, but it happened in one of their games where you got a catcher’s interference over in the regional in Greenville. So there’s no doubt we were a benefactor. Everybody knows when you’re in a series it’s a race to two wins. But really when you’re in a game, it’s a race to 27 outs so you’ll take them any way you can get them.”

On if Evansville’s fight in the ninth inning changes anything about his perception of them

“No. I mean, you know at the top of the convo here, just in the opening statement, we knew exactly what we’re getting. I kind of think the players did too. I’ve heard some underlying conversations – we don’t make them watch the game – but you know on a Monday, you want to put your feet up, and it was exciting. I watched more than I usually do [on] that Monday [with] those cutthroat games that they’re playing in. So, I think our guys watched the Evansville vs. East Carolina game and I think they were pretty good about it. They weren’t cheering for either team because they knew both teams were gonna be hell, and they saw it for themselves. So I think the one thing you’re combating is, and I kind of griped about this last week, we can have a conversation in the dugout as a whole team. They can talk in the locker room, but then you’re gonna have to combat what all you guys have to say and how the fans go back and forth. And in our league, no one does that more than those folks. So, you have to decide which of those things you want to pay attention to and which you don’t. But I think anybody that was wearing white today or wearing our uniform knew it was gonna be hell, and it’ll be like that tomorrow. And if it comes down to kind of like a lot of SEC series do where it’s 1-1 on Sunday, then it’ll be that too.”

On if he thought shuffling the middle of the order around would be as successful as it has been and why Hunter Ensley has been so successful in the five-hole

“I think prior to that there was already some momentum being built. Each year is very different, but things can play into your year from last year. Your expectations and what you want to do and things like that. So sometimes you see guys motivated for one reason or another start out slower or hotter or whatever it might be. And then as repetitions start to pile up, the truth, I guess, or the cream will rise to the top. I don’t know what the right phrase is, but again, when you get enough sample size, you’ll see what a guy is. And I think the numbers are fine. They’ve been climbing, but I’ve said it a million times – again usually when he is not around, so we don’t need this guy getting cocky – but he’s in the lineup because he fights. And everybody knows he’s got the ability to hit. If you’re in this game today – I’m going through those two lineups – you got the ability to hit. The results will come and go, but the more often or higher percentage of the time you compete your butt off, you just kind of shifted the percentages in your favor a little bit. And I think that’s what he does.”

On if the experience of the 2022 team losing to Notre Dame in super regionals is helping them approach this weekend

“I think so. I think anytime you do something, you get something out of it and to simplify it for now, if you do well, you take confidence from it. If you don’t, you try and learn or see what’s different. So I think it can only help when you experience something one way or another. But I also think, like you mentioned two years ago in college sports now, is kind of a long time, so there’s different leaders in this team. There’s also a different way this group goes about it. And then, you know, on the radio it was funny, they pointed out there are a lot of similarities between Evansville and Notre Dame, the team we played there. But there’s also a huge amount of differences too. So this is a different script that’s being written, but I do think the fact we experienced it, whether we would’ve won it or lost it gives us a little bit of an edge and then so does last year. You know, having to do it on the road was obviously tough, but just those moments of, you can call it pressure if you want, but those moments of being in a situation like this I think only benefit you.”

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