NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt starter Kumar Rocker out-dueled East Carolina starter Gavin Williams on Friday at Hawkins Field and the Commodores beat the visiting Pirates 2-0 in the opening game of an NCAA Super Regional.
Rocker (13-3) fanned 11 in 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball while Williams (10-1) was charged with two earned runs in 8 1/3 innings while striking out 13.
“(Rocker) gives us what we need at the time that we need it,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “This is a certainly a situation at the end of the year where you know that games are important and they’re closely-contested and there’s very little difference between teams. You need guys that are willing to get out there and leave it on the field. He’s done that continually.
“There hasn’t been at day when he’s been here at Vanderbilt where he hasn’t done that. He feels these situations, he loves the arena of competition and that’s what separates him in so many different ways.”
Vanderbilt (44-15) is now one win away from returning to the College World Series. East Carolina (44-16) can stave off elimination by winning Saturday’s contest scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
Kumar struck out 11 in today’s NCAA Super Regional.
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) June 11, 2021
Rocker threw 117 pitches (72 strikes) while working around three walks and three hits. The junior is now 7-1 with a 1.58 ERA and 72 strikeouts in eight career postseason appearances.
East Carolina tied a season low with three hits against Rocker. The hard-throwing right-hander is now eighth in Vanderbilt history with 297 career strikeouts, tied for third in program history for strikeouts in a season with 155 and tied for second with wins in a single Vanderbilt season (13).
“I love being able to be there and sit feet away from him and watch him compete. It’s fun,” Corbin said. “You love passion. When you see passionate kids that care about what they’re doing and they leave everything on the field and they are such backers of their team, protect their team in every way – I’m all-in.
“That’s all you ever want at the college level. You can feel it. It’s so raw and it’s so pure you just get so emotionally entrenched in it and he does that for you.”
One run of support was enough for Rocker, but Vandy added some insurance late anyway.
Keegan bounced one to a drawn-in Zach Agnos at shortstop who threw home to nail Bradfield – but Bradfield beat the throw with a head-first slide and right-handed swipe of the plate making it 2-0.
Rocker had made it through two outs in the seventh before East Carolina’s leading hitter Connor Norby drove a two-strike single into right. That brought Maldonado into the game to face Thomas Francisco.
Francisco swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped up to Vandy’s Jayson Gonzalez at third to end the inning. The Pirates didn’t threaten again.
Vanderbilt scratched out a run early and made it stand.
With one out in the second, Parker Noland chopped a bunt single to the right of the pitcher’s mound. CJ Rodriguez then laced a 3-1 pitch into the left-field corner for a double putting runners at second and third for Javier Vaz.
Vaz took the first pitch he was offered and rolled out to second plating Noland and making it 1-0.
“It was one of those things where, ‘That’s all you need at the moment,’ ” Rocker said. “That’s kind of what you got to tell yourself as a pitcher going against a guy like that. (Williams) did an incredible job today. I saw it from the dugout seat and it was amazing.”
Rocker didn’t allow a hit until Alec Makarewicz’s single to begin the fifth rolled into right field. Two outs later Bryson Worrell walked ahead of Seth Caddell, but Rocker got Waddell to ground out to third ending the threat.
Agnos worked a one-out walk in the seventh only to see Rocker induced a lazy fly to short right and his 11th strikeout of the game to get out of the inning unscathed. The junior exited with two outs in the next inning and left to a standing ovation.
“We just scratched out enough runs. Runs were very expensive today,” Corbin said. “We kind of knew that that was going to be the deal, but you get to this point in the season when you’ve got the best 16 teams in the country all coming together it typically is this way. So we’ll take it and we’ll move forward.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.