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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Tennessee Defeated Florida State To Advance To CWS

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball advanced to the College World Series Finals on Wednesday evening by knocking off Florida State 7-2.

The Vols scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back, using strong pitching and two-out hitting success to knock off Florida State for the second time in the last week.

Following the game, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello discussed getting out of the third inning jam, what it meant to advance to the finals and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: How Tennessee Baseball Defeated Florida State To Advance In The College World Series

Opening Statement

“I’m still trying to grasp what happened. We got hustle and bustle there with you all putting on three games. Thank goodness it’s going fairly well. Three games in one day is tough.

But heck of a time in Omaha. And us being the sandwich game, it’s one of the weirdest games I’ve ever been a part of. Maybe we came out of the winning end because we have one of the weirdest pitchers I’ve ever around in Zander. And he threw the ball really well and led us into the battle the way he should.

But both teams struck a bunch of balls very well. Both teams made great defensive plays. And both teams have explosive lineups that leave you on the edge of your seat, at least where I was standing. So hopefully the fans felt that way too and got their money’s worth. And if you were a Florida State fan you obviously got your money’s worth all year long, in particular the year that it was for them, remembering a legend as their former coach.”

On what the emotions are like from making the championship series

“It’s kind of hard. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle, like I said, after the game. And then also you want to manage it as well as you can.

What’s interesting, the position we put ourselves in, Kirby, Snead, Combs and there’s others, but those have been — our main three guys are fresh as a daisy — if you’re watching tombstone. And Zander is just throwing the heck out of it and got a really low pitch count. Just kind of want to always make sure I’m doing my part in putting these guys in a good position to succeed.

But Zander wouldn’t let you take the ball out of his hand today. We decided to utilize those guys. That’s where my head’s at, I guess. It’s not a great answer. But it is cool to see a cultivation of just like Burke’s development and Kirby being a mainstay of this program and Zander, his contribution.

We always say before something happens, something happens. There’s been a lot of build-up into the successes we’ve had this year and the failures, too, to be honest with you. And it’s been fun to be a part of.

As far as my emotions, I’m kind of at the point where I’m just following these guys. There are certain tasks I have to do, and there’s direction I give them, and they’ll listen. But kind of following them right now. Makes it nice.”

On the significance of getting out of the third inning jam

“It was nuts. I’m not even quite sure what happened on Dean’s play. He made such a good play. He made a great first step — on the ball he made an error on he made a great first step, too. It was almost too good. He was moving so fast. And what happened happened.

But he put himself in a great position to go to option A or option B, and you always think option A is protecting home plate. And the next play, just an outstanding job by Zander of keeping his composure.

And as much as we’d like to take back either a couple of errors, we did give up a few free bases, which is not necessarily — I guess one. Guys played really good defense. K.T.’s catch was incredible.

There’s an exclamation point on, I think, you guys are the ones that asked me earlier in the year, can he play center field. Jordan Beck did it, too. A coach tells you you can’t do something and you need to bow up. You need to be respectful to the coach, but you need to bow up to the situation. And he’s been a maniac in the outfield during BP.

I grew up watching Willie McGee, and he was so good defensively. But if you went to BP it all started there. He treated BP like a game. That’s how K.T. is. And he can play any of three spots as well as anybody I feel in our conference, at least what I know well, maybe even the country.”

On if the plays by Blake Burke and Dean Curley in the third inning show maturity

“Dean will give you a smirk and there are a few things that go in the freshman category, but he’s oddly mature for his age and physically mature too.

But by this point in the season, you should kind of be a sophomore if you’re a freshman. And I don’t know how many postseason games Blake has been a part of as well as others. And even Zander didn’t get to pitch here last year. But he’s seen so many of them and now been a part of them, too, it benefits you.

You can do something for the first time and still have success. But I think there’s some contributions there, for sure, of our guys relying on the past to be mature and have experience and know what to do in different situations.

But the other thing is, too, I’m very blessed with a support staff that’s insanely good. We’ve stuck together regardless of what goes on — good, bad. Maybe I’ll make a snide comment here and there, but we’ve stuck together and incredibly close. And from my standpoint why we’re close is because I want to win.

And I think we do have success because of those guys. And in turn these players, this group of players will listen as well as — I can’t think of a group that compares to it. They’ll listen as well as anyone.

So that to me is mature, taking direction even though you are an experienced player, you’re really talented or whatever it might be. And I feel like the guys giving direction are really good.”

On if he ever visioned Zander Sechrist not only being a weekend starter, but a high level one

“I think when — Blake mentioned he’s made some mistakes on a particular play. And he bounces back. And I wanted to answer for him there. The homer came after an at-bat where he had a guy at third base and one out. And that’s pretty dang good spot for Blake Burke to be in.

Having said that, if you go back, Oxford might have thrown his very best three pitches all in one at-bat to Blake. But to me I think he hit the ball so hard the next AB because he was determined to have a bounce-back at-bat.

And I think Zander being frustrated with me a couple different times where he came out of the game earlier than he should have, again, you bow up.

I’ve never had a day in my life where Zander is anywhere close to being disrespectful to me, but there’s a way you do it on the field where you show this is what I can do. And the old actions speak louder than words.

I think there’s many examples with this team. I mentioned it with K.T.’s defense, too, where if it doesn’t go as well as the guys want — Nate Snead was not in the top five or six guys in the fall. He was very unhappy. He showed it on his face. We talked about it, and he went to work. And I think that’s a big part of where we’re at right now.”

On if he anticipated this team having as much power as they did

“No, but I don’t know that I’ve applied myself in that manner. Coach Elander will because it’s near and dear to his heart. He knows how to do it. He works on it with the guys. But it’s never a huge stressor. Look at today, how many home runs could you argue or hit on a day where the wind is blowing out, we’re playing in a smaller park. Sometimes it doesn’t happen for you the way you want. But we knew our guys would take consistently good swings. We knew they were very physical, and we knew we’d have some depth.

And Reese didn’t have the best day today, but it’s kind of nice being able to put Ensley in that DH spot and feel good about it.”

On the importance of working competitive at-bats

“It’s another thing, I mean, I don’t know where we stack up with walk totals and stuff like that. It’s not necessarily stressed, but it is stressed to have competitive at-bats throughout. If you take pitches off, you may get away with it in your at-bat or your day may look good on the box score, but maybe you’re hurting the guys behind you.

Some of those at-bats were not necessarily productive, again, on the stat sheet. But I do think, when everyone in the lineup hooks it up, then it just makes everybody better.

Sum greater than the parts is the cliche I used the other day. I think it fits with this group, in particular. It’s really fun — I’m staring now the top of the order was really good today. But as I’ve said before, there’s parts of the year where it’s more just middle, the bottom, and it alternates, and again it makes it a headache for the other team. Kind of like they were for us, up and down the lineup. Alex hits that homer and Cantu did as well. It’s nice to have that weapon on offense.”

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