Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
Tennessee baseball punched its ticket to the program’s sixth ever College World Series Monday night with a win 5-0 victory over Southern Miss.
It’s Tennessee’s second trip to the College World Series in the Tony Vitello’s sixth year as head coach with one season being cancelled early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Vols’ pitching was dominant and Zane Denton provided a massive three-run homer that put Southern Miss away.
Here’s everything Vitello said after the memorable win.
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“Three things come to mind. First thing is the guy to the right of me (Drew Beam), I mentioned it in the outfield, there’s so much you want to say, but everybody is acting a fool, so I just jump in on that. We were a little short last year from going to the World Series and the thing that was missing in my mind and it was very painful for me the rest of the summer — I can handle a loss. The other coaches can handle a loss. It was an epic year, but it was a weird weekend and this guy never had the ball in his hand. This was certainly a strange weekend as well, but seeing him out there throwing and knowing we met as coaches today, and I told them all when we were done, ‘You want to know why I’m fine with no matter what happens tonight? It’s because we get to see him throw.’
“And then the other thing was, I wish we could have done this in Knoxville in front of our fans because they’ve meant a lot to us. But it’s a challenge to win in the postseason and we had to go do it on the road. No one wants to hear it, but there were a lot of difficult circumstances this group had to overcome and I’m proud of it.
“Then, the third thing is just Coach (Scott) Berry. If it’s us, or whoever wins a National Championship, we’ll throw a party in Knoxville, or congrats to whoever else it is. But that’s the definition of champion. That guy. You can ask anyone who played for him, anybody that’s been around him and anyone that’s competed against him. The game is losing a good one, but he left his mark. There’s no question.”
On not thinking this team was No. 2 good preseason, when he knew this team could be good and how good he thinks they can be now
“I think there was a surge in confidence in different parts of the year. It came in segments and to be honest with you it came yesterday even though we lost the first game or the continuation part. So it’s come in segments and to revisit that team meeting, I always try to be honest with you guys. You all have a job to do just like we do and I’m not trying to undersell the team but we were not the No. 2 team in the country in February and March. But the comment was, we very well could be that team. Obviously we’d like to be one better, and I hope these guys don’t punch me but I don’t think we’re that either yet. The whole idea was understand this group and kind of carve our own way out by being a team that consistently makes progress and figures things out. That’s what they’ve done and it’s been a challenge and halfway through the year they took ownership of the team, the players that is. They’ve continued to push forward and they have room to continue to do that.”
On Chase Burns’ emotion getting out of the seventh, what he’s brought out of the bullpen
“It was incredible. The moment before was pretty special. You have to have a lot of conversations in the dugout. He’s at 100 pitches. I don’t want to speak for them (USM), but I’d like to think they don’t want us to take him out of the game. That’s one way to think of it but he’s also earned the right to take ownership of the game so we sent him back out. Two seeing-eye singles and he gave me the stiff arm, but he doesn’t throw 100 like Burnsy. We took him out and that Combs deal, man, was incredible. First of all, it gave us time to get Chase hot. Chase came to the park saying he could get us three-to-six outs and he threw for us last night so we wanted him to finish the game for us basically. Come in maybe in the middle of the eighth and finish the thing. But you could see things start to develop. I couldn’t find Burns. If he were here you could ask him where he was but I couldn’t find him because I saw Dickerson coming up in the lineup. I shook his hand (Dickerson) out there. I love our players but that guy is a butt kicker to keep it PG-13. He’s a special guy. I hope they remember him forever around here and they might get to watch him on TV in the big leagues. With him coming up, I thought that was going to be a swing moment in the game so why not give it to the big dog right there? That emotion he shows is reminiscent of what took place earlier in an SEC weekend (Vanderbilt) for us and it helped swing this whole season. It gave the guys a rallying point. It gave other team’s something to fear at the end of the game and he did it again and it was pretty special. It lifted our guys and gave our guys confidence that we had ownership of the game. Sorry, I sound like Tom Izzo. Lot fewer wins than that guy but I sound like him.”
On where this season ranks amongst the most gratifying of his career
“That’s tough. We’re still going, so, you really don’t get a chance as an assistant and it’s so much more fun. You can act wild, or more wild, play games in your head — we’ve got to be responsible for what the next step is. There’s still season to go. So, I think it’s an unfinished tale. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s gone on. Started literally — losing is part of this deal. This is what we signed up for. You win some and you lose some as they say. So, the end of last year was painful, but immediately, like a few hours after our season was over, a very challenging period in our program started with a lot of different things. To be sitting on this stage advancing is very memorable. Tough to put into words.”
On how challenging of a weekend it was with all of the delays
“It’s good we’ve had some conversations. I said it to the team, but I appreciate greatly everybody that was a part of that team last year. Guys like Trey Lipscomb and I could go on and on. They have one of the most memorable college seasons ever, one of the most talked about, and then they also helped these guys learn some lessons. And when you advance to Hoover and beyond, you’re still playing baseball, but there’s other games you still have to play. And that’s one of them. Managing times and itineraries and things like that. These guys having learned those lessons helped us get through. We’re already playing a hell of a team, but then there’s other stuff that goes on. There’s some friendly things being said from the stands to all of us. There’s a lot to take on, but that’s part of the deal. You have to win a bunch of battles. Not just the ones on the field.”
On USM coach Scott Berry, honoring him postgame
“It is hard. I mean, you have to celebrate. Then you catch yourself. Then you want to celebrate more. Then you catch yourself. We talked about a phrase last night about really good competition. Again, part of me — I want to see Dickerson play more baseball. My loyalty is with these guys and of course I am excited. it is kind of a tough deal. But again you sign up for tough stuff with this whole deal. When the pain subsides with a little bit of time and they reflect on the season they had, to me, that guy this year and other years is one that everybody needs to look to. The coaching part is real good but the person part is way better. (We did what) any other team would have done and of course the fans and the players appreciate him, too. His family came over and congratulated all of us as coaches. That shows you. That is what we try and do is recruit guys that come from really good families. He has got his family that is blood relatives but he has got a big-ass family if I can say that. There was a lot worse said tonight. Probably by our players, too. it was back and forth. It was part of the deal. He has got a big-ass family. I don’t know if I should say this or not, but I hope it because he felt like it was the best time for him and not because things are starting to get a little crazy. Not my place to speak for him. Just my spot to applaud him and try and imitate. Got no chance to imitate him. He is a lot more of a man’s man than I am.”