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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Knocked Off North Carolina

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball improved to 2-0 in the College World Series for the first time ever on Sunday night, knocking off North Carolina 6-1.

After using an offensive explosion to get past Florida State in their opener, the Vols used strong pitching performances from a trip of pitchers and solid defense to move a win away of the College World Series final.

Following the game, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello discussed Drew Beam’s performance, this team playing so well after past hiccups and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Strong Pitching Pushes Tennessee Past North Carolina In College World Series

Opening statement

“Two good lineups that are very dangerous, but runs were at a premium tonight for a few different reasons. One was the defense was outstanding on both sides. And there were also some balls that were stung that defenders were in a position to make a play on.

Glad we were to get it done for a lot of reasons. The last time we were in that dugout Drew pitched really well for us but he pitched even better tonight. We just followed his lead. And he helped put us out front which is what you want your starter to do.

And fortunate to win. Every team in that league is good, but North Carolina had as much success as anybody in it. They had kind of been a force of nature, and still are capable of being that with all that had gone on.

So I think it says a lot for our guys to come out and have the focus they did after a pretty emotional win. There is a separator day in there. So kudos to our players for that.”

On having players like Hunter Ensley that will literally run through a wall for him

“It means a lot. It means when you come to work you better bring obviously the same energy and positive attitude and also work ethic. Ensley came in and was a guy who had to redshirt. I don’t know if he certainly had the athletic ability and mentality. I don’t know if he was ready to do it right away without the repetitions.

And he’s a guy that’s all over the facility at all times working on things, especially when he was younger. Now he’s able to kind of go about it like a pro now that he’s got his own system. That’s why he was in there. That’s why he was in there last year.

He’s pretty much reached Drew Gilbert stage where in practice we don’t want him anywhere near the wall because we know we’ll get our money’s worth in the game. It’s usually the opposite with an outfielder at high school or college level; they’ll shy away from it. He’s not scared. He’s a fighter.”

On him being able to enjoy the outfield play over the course of the week

“You can in general of the others. I mentioned it after our Super Regional against Evansville. Sometimes it’s not the right occasion to shake hands, but, man, when I was a little kid in St. Louis, it’s a hockey city. My dad’s from Chicago, it’s a hockey city. I love that deal where with two teams are trying to beat each other’s brains in, but they have the respect for the effort and the ability to be at that level. That’s why that handshake is so special in the hockey playoffs.

Took me a while at a young age to figure out, why are they shaking hands. They just fought. One guy knocked another guy’s teeth out, whatever it might be. Shout-out to Bob Probert.

It’s kind of the same admiration. You want to be the best team here, but you have to take a step back and realize that you’re amongst the best athletes at the college level.

A lot of these guys you scouted or see in Cape Cod doing well or Team USA and things like that. So you’ve got to pinch yourself and make sure you’re not being a fan too much. But you’re crazy to not be just the spectacle this thing has become.”

On if this trip to Omaha feels different because of lessons learned

“Yeah, but I think more so, too, you guys asked Drew about Kirby coming in. When you go out there, that’s Frank’s deal with the pitchers. I stay out of his way. I think that’s maybe the smartest thing I do.

But when I’m out there, I’m on the field. And there’s certain feedback and body language and words that are said you get from the players.

You look in the outfield and see what those guys are doing, the pitcher you’re taking the ball from and the guy coming out of the bullpen. And that’s just one example of how this team’s a little bit different.

Drew wants to be out there, but he was almost excited to give Kirby the ball and said some things to me and the other guys that just made you feel good. Made you feel like we’re in a good position to play our brand of baseball.

That’s not always the case when you’re in a high-pressure situation, if you want to call it that or a spot where a lot of emotions could be running wild. This group seems to stick together. I feel we’re getting closer as the year goes on. They have an interesting level of maturity about them. I’m sure anti-Tennessee people will argue, but there’s a certain maturity there over the course of nine innings with all the things that can happen in a game.”

On why this team has been the Tennessee team that was capable of going 2-0 in Omaha

“I think that’s tough. I think when you get here, it’s chaos. And just from at least my advantage point — I’m not experienced enough or wise enough to say why this or that — because look at the first three games. Out of the six teams that played, it could have been any six of them won their first game. It was madness and it will probably continue to be that.

So I think you just want to be a little better than the other team on that given day and that can come in a variety of ways, as you all pointed out earlier.

But if I was to answer on the team’s success this year, I have to go broken record and just say the team chemistry and camaraderie that’s there. Sum greater than the parts applies to a lot of different things. And it certainly applies to teams.

It would be nice to have Michael Jordan and say you’ve got the best guy to take over, or Peyton Manning to lead the way. But this is deal where you got nine guys and baseballs flying around and arms moving and things like that and energy in the dugout. There’s just a lot of things that happen in our sport, with all due respect to the others. What carries the heavy weight for us is the camaraderie.”

On the difference for Drew Beam compared to his last few outings

“The Drew one is easy. There was conviction to it. I was asked by Chris Burke and the ESPN staff to compare year by year with Drew. And the one thing you all and John Wilkerson and me talk about with Drew is consistency.

I think he’s really worked hard. Body’s improved a little bit. Leadership has definitely gone up. Stuff, there’s added on there. But if you’re going to say how different is he as a freshman from junior year, it’s not that different. His hard work has paid off. But consistency is a word that sticks out.

One thing that can happen is, as you get older, or especially when you experience his junior year, when you’re going to go on to pro ball, and also supposed to be a team leader, and maybe you move off that day that you’ve been used to, you can add stuff in, into the basket, or whatever analogy would be good to use. And sometimes cutting out the fat or not adding things will help you stay true to your roots.

And tonight I think there was a real simple approach. I’ve got good stuff. I’m a good athlete. I’m a good leader, I’m going to go do it.

There didn’t seem to be any extra thoughts or trying to accomplish any bonus extra things. Snead was awesome out there. He wanted to throw better. I think anytime you get North Carolina guys out, you threw good.

But he admittedly tried to strike a guy out that he eventually walked. When you try to add things into the basket or whatever the heck is the right way to say it, you’ll probably detract from your performance a little bit. And drew wasn’t going to let that happen tonight.”

On if he has any update on Hunter Ensley after he exited the game

“I said in the mid- game interview there — a little pressure mid-game when you have to do that stuff — I said he was woozy or wobbly. I think I said he was woozy. I didn’t mean his head. I meant wobbly.

He crashed into the wall, and I think hip — I just kept relying on Woody and Doc Clinks (phonetic) in our dugout. So I kept saying, what do you think.

But you could see he wasn’t moving around his best. In the back of my mind, I thought, as soon as we got a lead we can’t afford with the way Drew was throwing the ball to not get to a fly ball, which ironically is what got us into that spot.

You’ve got to just sit in the stands and watch each pitch, because you don’t know which one will affect the game the most. The same thing as a player. You’ve just got to hook it up each pitch because who knows what’s going to happen if the ball gets over his head. Tremendous play.”

On Tennessee’s home run ability being able to flip games

“It’s nuts. If you look at the play, the replay, we were able to watch it more than one time, it was a pretty dang, good play. But it’s nuts to see what happens after that. He might have saved us from going to a guy in the bullpen. Like I said, I thought Snead was throwing the ball well. North Carolina has been able to mount some comebacks, too, so you’re trying to prevent any chaos from starting.

He’s taken a lot of pride. It wasn’t good over there at second freshman year, to be honest with you. We used Ensley as an example.

It became a pride point for him, and he got really good at it last year. Now he’s gotten to the point he played shortstop for us at some point this year.

He was begging to go to center as soon as Ensley came out of the game. He has been there this year. Good conversation for scouts to have. Clearly this guy is physical enough and smart enough to be a hitter at that level.

Where are we going to play him? I think they have a lot of options. At the very least, it won’t be a Dan Uggla, with all due respect. I think he played at Memphis, Tennessee. You’re not just putting a bat at second base, as you mentioned he’s pretty dang good over there for us.”

On what their brand of baseball is

“I don’t think you want to get too caught up in what’s going on with they get a guy on base or what are we doing here or — you’re not going to be relaxed. Everyone says be loose. Well, come on. We know where we’re at.

But you can’t be tense. And you’ve got to still be able to breathe and carry on a conversation and have a realistic understanding of what the situation is. Call it self-awareness is big in that situation.

I think that vibe, they want that from us. They don’t want us yelling at them like absolute maniacs, if that’s a good example. We also want them to just be present whatever the situation is. In that deal, we’re having a meeting, can’t play ball, just have to prepare for the next situation. The next thing is hand the ball off to Kirby.

Everyone in that moment talked about how much they trust Kirby, which he’s obviously earned. And we go out there and play ball, see what happens.

Like I said, here, with these teams and the moments, anything could swing one way or the other. But we would prefer it be our team showing up and doing what we do, what you’ve seen, and go to battle with that and see where it gets us.”

On Kirby Connell being able to succeed in different roles over the course of his career

“He’s been asked to do a lot more, and maybe it’s a fitting parallel there because he’s done a lot more in the community and in our locker room.

It’s been every year just a growing presentation of a guy who was a special, special individual. And even though you don’t see a guy creeping up, — Frank’s had these guys, Crochet is a lefty that goes from 87, 88 to 100. That’s not the progression that Kirby has made, but he worked at a lot of different things to progress as a pitcher, not just as a person.

And I think he’s continued to improve as he is, but the one thing about throwing him out there is, like today, everybody feels good, whatever happens with him on the mound, so be it. We’ll go back to the hotel. Maybe you’re frustrated. Maybe you’re happy. But you’ll put your head on that pillow and be good with whatever he does because he’s one of those guys you go to battle with.

This whole thing I threw out there about our locker room is great. It’s not me. There’s a lot of special things that have to go in place. And Drew being unselfish and congratulating a guy getting a ball on open day instead of him when it’s kind of his pitching staff, that’s something. And Kirby just being Kirby; he gets the ovations he does for a reason. That’s something.”

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