NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Much has changed since the last time Vanderbilt played at Hawkins Field. But much has stayed the same, too.
Kumar Rocker was relatively sharp on the mound and Commodore offense did its part for a 14-1, opening-day win over visiting Wright State in the first game of a doubleheader Monday.
Vandy (1-0) had not taken the field since March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the last college baseball program to win a national championship looked the part on its sun-soaked home field after its 2021 opening series was delayed by snow over the weekend.
Rocker, the 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player, made it into the fifth before being lifted before reaching 70 pitches. The junior will be needed this weekend when Vanderbilt hosts Georgia State for a four-game series starting Friday.
The Commodores offense gave their starter plenty of run support. They capitalized on their 14 hits and scored in six of their eight at-bats.
Rocker (1-0) got off to a dazzling start by throwing 17 pitches and striking out the side in the first inning. He had fanned eight and allowed just one hit before running into the trouble in the fifth.
Walks to the first two hitters of that frame signaled the end of the junior’s day. Sam Hliboki entered the fray and gave up a solid to single to load the bases with nobody out.
But Hliboki induced two pop-ups at the plate sandwiched around a strikeout to escape the jam.
Rocker went 4+ innings and struck out eight while working around three walks. He threw 67 pitches, 39 of which were strikes.
Vanderbilt starting scoring long before that, however.
Dominic Keegan stepped in and drove a 2-0 pitch into the right-field corner for an RBI double putting the Dores up 2-0.
Isaiah Thomas provided the first home run of the Vanderbilt season with a golf shot over the wall in left field in the fourth. That put the Commodores ahead 3-0.
Enrique Bradfield recorded his first career hit with a lead-off bunt single down the third base line to begin the bottom of the fifth. The freshman then stole second just before Jayson Gonzalez unloaded a two-run shot on a high fastball to deep centerfield making it 5-0.
That ball is Gon(e)zo. 💣
Two-run shot for @gonzalezjay40 to deep center. 🔥
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) February 22, 2021
Thomas began the sixth with a triple off the right-field wall before Noland drew a walk. One out later, Keegan grounded a ball to third and Thomas used a nifty slide at the plate avoiding the tag to make it 6-0.
Gonzalez took a pitch on the left shoulder with the bases loaded making it 7-0 later that inning.
In the seventh, Carter Young lined a single to center and then took second on a wild pitch. Noland stepped to the box two outs later and laced an RBI double into the corner in left making it 8-0.
Vandy reliever Chris McElvain allowed an RBI double off the bat of Sammy Sass in the eighth cutting the Vanderbilt lead to 8-1.
Bradfield got that run back in the bottom half of the inning with an RBI knock into right field scoring Keegan. After CJ Rodriquez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Thomas drove in two more with a solid single up the middle and then a Kolwyck fly ball to center was lost in the sun and dropped to the turf allowing two more runs to score.
McElwain closed the door with a scoreless ninth.
Wright State (0-1) starter Jake Schrand (0-1) went five innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits. He struck out seven.
Vanderbilt senior left fielder Cooper Davis left Monday’s game during his first at-bat when a foul ball went off his face. Freshman Jack Bulger replaced him in the lineup for the duration of the game.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.