Tennessee came from behind to defeat Vanderbilt 4-3 in 12 innings on Friday night, winning game one over the Commodores. The Vols played arguably their most complete game of the season with good pitching and defense all around and the bats showing up just in time.
What did skipper Tony Vitello have to say about the win for his team? Pitchers Andrew Lindsey and chase Burns also spoke to the media, along with the hero himself, Griffin Merritt – who registered the walk off hit. A written transcript for each is provided below.
Tony Vitello written transcript
On the fight his team showed to come back and walk it off…
“It was huge. That’s Friday night in our league or sometimes Thursday because of TV. I think the crowd that showed up got a show. I mean first of all, thanks for choosing us over Lizzo. But both teams, you could see guys just grinding away. Those last two pitchers were going to go out on their shield no matter what it felt like. Tremendous defensive plays on on both sides. Guys were trying like crazy at the plate, but the stuff that was coming at them was pretty good tonight from both sides.
“All in all just a great night. I don’t know how you don’t enjoy that. I mean I know it’s difficult, any team could come up on the short end of that, but that kind of right there is what it’s all about if I can use that cliche.”
On how impressive the at-bats from Kavares Tears and Dylan Dreiling in the ninth inning were…
“Dylan just handling it as a freshman and getting kind of a late tap on the shoulder, and the way the at-bat’s going, and then the point in the game — it’s incredibly impressive. And then KT, everything in that was — his body of work showed up in that at-bat. He’s worked on staying in his legs more, doing some other things and adjusting. It’s nice when kids get rewarded when they’re determined to put in hours when no one is watching.”
On Griffin Merritt’s walk-off homer after not starting the game…
“It’s kind of a lesson for anybody that’s on our team or of course, a bunch of little kids here cheering us on which is awesome. If you know the details there, you have an older guy that, like our team, has high expectations. Like our team, has dealt with frustrations. Then, even in the game as he gets put in, the first two at-bats didn’t exactly go his way. But if you sit down with the kid in the office or talk with him in the cage, and you guys talked with him here so you probably picked up on the vibe. He’s got a great mindset. It’s even-keeled, but also, he’s kind of leaning forward a little bit. He wants to be aggressive towards what he wants to do whether it’s be a good teammate, be a good leader, be a defender, be a good hitter. That was one of about four or five big time highlights for us. Just his effort off the bench and the attitude he maintained.”
What it was like to see guys celebrating after the big plays…
“It’s an opportunity for them to come together. You can preach that, you can say that, you could have a team meeting — which they haven’t had, and ‘hey, we have to rally around one another,’ but you have to play the season. You have to have some things go on. So often, the guys have showed up to the park and the game is going to be your competition everyday. And the game is very challenging. We always talk about our conference in particular, too, is very challenging, so you take it up a notch. Then you talk about all the external things that come with this year. There’s so many it’s insane. When you’re battling those, too, there’s kind of a compound effect. If you just boil it down to, ‘you know what, I gotta be there for the guy next to me, so I don’t have time to get deflated or if I do, the guy next to me helps pick me up, so I have to pick him up the next go around.’
“To me, the big theme of it all is that it’s an opportunity to come together. Because we played a game like this against Boston College who I’m sure is winning a bunch of games at this point and that’s an opportunity to come apart a little bit. When everyone is frustrated with one another. And our guys have been great all year long, but this is something kind of like that fun win against A&M that they can hang their hat on and again, should rally around one another and realize how much they need each other because Griffin, Dylan, KT, (Chase) Burns, really, but who are you going to give the number one star of the game to. Who made a play even though it didn’t show up in the box score. It was a complete team effort on both sides to be honest with you.”
On the decision to go to Chase Burns mid at-bat…
“His outing was impressive enough I don’t have words for it, and yet, I’ll stop myself and say he’s capable of that. And about everybody that has seen him throw this year knows that. The stuff has ticked up even a bit from last year. But, to take in stride, ‘Hey, we’re not sure what your role is in Fayetteville, Arkansas,’ and kind of be relaxed and take it in stride and then throw well is one thing. But then tonight, which I hope he didn’t make me look too dumb, but when I just tap him on the shoulder all of a sudden and say, ‘Do you want this or not?’ and he says, ‘Yeah,’ and goes down there, gets ready, pretty much in a hurry, and then comes in in that situation. And [Camden] Sewell, he was kind of teasing me, ‘Don’t you trust me out there?’ And we trust him, but he had dealt with a little bit of a hand issue against Arkansas and it kind of popped up again, so, again, it’s hard not to put the ball in the hand of the guy we did, and overall, the circumstances dictated that I felt.”
On what’s been the biggest difference for Chase Burns coming out of the bullpen…
“I think he just needed a reset. You could argue a [he had] little better command against Arkansas, at least with the off-speed stuff. Obviously tonight, the crowd helped our entire team, the situation did as well, but it kind of had the vibe of ‘I’m not letting you guys lose,’ and that meant everybody. Everybody that is in the park and everybody in our dugout, so the stuff obviously ticked up a little bit. I’m sure all the guys will talk about how he hit 100, rather than talk about winning the game, but that part was fun. But I think he just needed a reset. If you look at his body of work prior to this, a lot of stuff kind of hit a downward spiral because it’s so frustrating, it kind of mirrors our team. He’s throwing the ball well, throwing the ball well, then we don’t make a play behind him, bad break, a guy does square a ball up… and then it would kind of snowball a little bit. He just needed Coach [Rick] Barnes to call a 20-second timeout and reset and realize there’s still half of the year left, and he could put together a pretty dang good year. And my dad was making a comment about future stuff, I mean the guy has got as bright of a future as you could imagine.”
On seeing the emotion from Burns coming off the mound….
“Yeah, John [Wilkerson] mentioned that, and I was like, ‘John, there was a little bit of that in Arkansas,’ and it kind of showed a little bit more [tonight], and maybe it’s easier to do that out of the bullpen than a starting role. But at the same time, he’s evolving and coming out of his shell. That foundation of his college career and career in general of what went on last year is never going anywhere. He was very mature. He got a ton of great experience. He was a good teammate. He led to a season that was something that everyone was proud of, and he was a big part of that. And now it’s about building off of that. And sometimes as you move forward, sometimes it’s like a guy that gets stronger as a hitter, and there’s other ways to look at it, too. A kid that’s growing into his body… I think he’s growing into his stuff and growing into his career a little bit this year. Again, it takes two to tango, some guys have been fired up to hit him and done it well. There’s times we could’ve been better behind him, some quirky circumstances, but the guy, at the end of the day, is one that you want with the ball in his hand with the game on the line.”
Andrew Lindsey written transcript
On if the start vs. Arkansas helped him have success tonight…
“I mean we just try to stay consistent around here. Coach A (Frank Anderson) preaches it. Continue to work hard and good things, good things come from it. Just stay consistent this week in preparation and work hard.”
On being in the dugout watching the final innings….
“Unbelievable. I mean, we’ve been knocking on the door all weekend, or, all year and you know it came together tonight in some big hits and we look to continue to do that and just keep having big at-bats and throwing big pitches, creating big games. It’s what we live for here.”
On what a win like this does for a struggling team….
“It’s a firestarter. It’s what you need at this point in the year and we look to continue to build on it. A lot of confidence in our guys, I always have confidence in our guys but maybe for them, it was a personal confidence boost, so hopefully, we can see that continue.”
On what the last two weeks have been like knowing he’s the Friday starter….
“I mean just trying to stay focused on pitching. I mean obviously, it kind of carries a little bit different of a load with it but just trying to stay focused on the one pitch that you are throwing in the moment and taking care of the batters and innings that you get to have.”
On the challenge of a quick turnaround to game two….
“It’s extremely difficult. You have to have a certain level of maturity and I think we have a lot of maturity on this team to, you know, flush those emotions come tomorrow. Prepared, focused, ready to go, locking in, hanging up the cleats, so, it’s really difficult but gotta do it.”
On giving the ball to Dollander after winning tonight….
“It inspires a lot of confidence. I mean, you see, you can see him in the dugout all game long coming out there, he’s the first one to greet me, he’s the, he’s the guy that’s talking to me in between innings helping me figure things out and make sure that I’m staying on task, so, gotta get behind him tomorrow. Hopefully, we can put up some runs and give him the support he needs behind in the defensive end and, you know, he’s gonna pitch a good game like he always does. He always competes hard, so look forward to that.”
Chase Burns written transcript
On how good it felt to perform the way he did….
“Been in the bullpen for the last two outings. Me and V(itello) had a good talk about resetting after a couple bad starts. Coming out there and doing my job. … *cant pick up what he says to finish*.”
On his mindset entering the game in the middle of an at-bat…..
“Same mindset I’ve always had, coming in and dominating and throwing strikes and do your job and try to win.”
On if he could tell he was throwing harder….
“Yeah. I could tell a little bit. A couple velo checks. It is what it is.”
On being more relaxed out of the bullpen….
“I think you are more relaxed just because you’re in the dugout cheering your team on and all of a sudden he tells you to go down and that’s when it kind of kicks in. But, you know, it is what it is. Whatever role I’m in, I’m going to do my job.”
On if there’s been anything he’s picked up on different in relief than when he’s starting…
“My mechanics is just one of them. Me and Q(uentin Eberhardt), our strength coach, we talked about my body movements and stuff like that so we’ve been really working on my hips to throw more strikes and it’s really working.”
On working out of the stretch exclusively and if that’s from working his hips….
“Yeah, a little bit. I came in, I was warming up in the bullpen out of the stretch the whole time so when I got that out and I could tell it felt a lot better. It felt a lot smoother. I was throwing a lot more strikes so I was sticking with it.”
On how big this was for the team….
“I think it’s a big morale booster. They’re in the same state as us. They’re really good. A top program and I think just getting this win for us was huge for us.”
On his command of his slider…..
“It’s one of my best pitches. It’s a plus-plus pitch. Me and Coach A(nderson) talk about it all the time. I think just throughout the last couple of outings I’ve been finding it so I think it’s really good right now.”
On how big it was to win game one….
“It’s huge. Friday night lights in the SEC you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
On if he surprised himself with the emotion he showed….
“No. I’ve always had it. I always try to stay within myself so I know who I am and that just came out of me but it’s always been there.”
On what he’s seen from Andrew Lindsey….
“He’s a dude. He can be starter, reliever, anything he wants. We have a lot of pitchers and that’s why I trust Coach A so much. We have so many pitchers that can have so many roles and so we’re all really glad to have him.”
On the emotion in extra innings….
“When you don’t want to lose, those emotions come out and you want to dig a little bit deeper to get that win.”
Griffin Merritt written transcript
On getting the walk off hit…
“It felt great first of all. Maldonado had just been throwing a lot of cutters. I was expecting it after I grounded out on it in the last at-bat. He threw one first pitch that I was on. I was just a little around it. V yelled at me from the dugout to stay in my legs, which means to stay through the ball to the backside. You can ask him what stay in your legs means. He showed the fastball up and I knew he was probably going to come back with the cutter. I stayed on it and stayed behind it instead of spinning off. Off the bat, I thought it was out. Then I was running and I was like if this this the fence I am on first base. I threw the bat and started running. I would have looked pretty dumb.”
On a win like this for this team….
“A bunch. We needed something like this. I am happy I could play a role in it. In any shape or form, this team needed a comeback win against a good team — a kickstart, really. We need to take this energy. It is a quick turnaround. We have a game in 15 hours. We have to turn that around and get ready to play tomorrow.”
On the home runs in the ninth inning….
“KT leads us off with a great swing and a home run. Dreiling, the kid is pretty good. He gets down to the last strike. A lot of times people see, oh I just swung over two curveballs and I am down to my last strike. Here we go. Everybody has full confidence in him until it his last pitch. Great swing by him. As soon as he had that hit, (Sewell) closed out that inning, we saw Burns running in and we were ready to win.”
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