Tony Vitello spoke with his Tennessee baseball team twice Thursday about the emotions that would be present in the super regional against Notre Dame.
Then a worst-case scenario unfolded before Vitello’s eyes in Round 5 on Friday.
Center fielder Drew Gilbert turned to plate umpire Kellen Levy, furious with a strike call and unleashed a series of choice words at Levy and was ejected.
“He let it overflow a bit there,” Vitello said. “It’s up to their discretion what is and what isn’t (ejection-worthy). I really enjoy competing with him and would love to do it again. You cannot take it back.
Gilbert, the heart and soul of Tennessee, will miss Saturday’s game against the Fighting Irish as the Vols play to keep their season alive. UT lost 8-6 to Notre Dame. The Vols must win consecutive games to qualify for the College World Series.
They’ll have to do it without Gilbert and pitching coach Frank Anderson, who was kicked out after Gilbert.
“Certainly, pretty well documented that the kid likes to win and plays with a lot of passion,” Vitello said. “Sometimes it’s hard to control him. I joked at Georgia Southern last year to the ref that I had no control over him. I can’t be on the court with him. I wish I could. I’d kill to play with that kid.”
Umpire’s team manager Billy Van Raaphorst said in a statement that Gilbert “disputed several pitches early in the second inning, coming from center field.” Van Raaphorst said Gilbert was warned between innings to only direct commentary “at his team, not our team or the other team.” Gilbert explained “he’s just excited.”
“During the fifth inning after the first strike, Tennessee batter Gilbert yelled an expletive, followed by another expletive as he came out of the box and was then ejected,” Van Raaphorst said.
Gilbert took a first pitch from Notre Dame reliever Alex Rao. Rao’s second throw was down and to Gilbert. Levy called it a strike, prompting Gilbert to turn to face Levy. He blurted out a few words before tucking his bat under his right arm and adjusting his batting gloves as he continued to chirp.
The junior outfielder turned around and saw that Levy had thrown him out of play and his jaw dropped. He spun around in disbelief.
Vitello and Anderson burst out of the UT dugout amid the chaos. Vitello said he didn’t say anything, but wasn’t sure who got ejected. Anderson was pitched for the second time this season.
“We talked about having as sincere a conversation as possible in the dressing room,” Vitello said. “Frank wanted to make sure Drew didn’t do anything to make things worse or get a suspension.”
Jared Dickey entered in place of Gilbert and found himself third. He played the rest of the game in left field, while left fielder Seth Stephenson moved to center field.
Gilbert was hitting .373 with 11 home runs and 70 RBIs Friday. He started 55 games in center field and was the cleanup hitter the past two seasons.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will give you access to it all.