It’s been said that turnabout is fair play.
So, it seemed only fitting after Mississippi State watched Vanderbilt shred a few of its pitchers on Monday night that the Commodores would suffer a similar fate on Tuesday night.
But now, with a chance to repeat as College World Series champions, Vanderbilt is likely putting its season in the right hand of Kumar Rocker. And honestly, there’s no one else better suited for the job.
“Give him the ball and he’ll compete,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said of Rocker after Tuesday’s 13-2 loss.
Although he pitched on Friday — allowing just five hits and one run with 11 strikeouts over six innings against N.C. State — how could Wednesday’s starter be anyone else but Rocker, who is one of, if not the best student-athlete in VU history in any sport?
The 6-foot-5 junior has been perhaps the most clutch player in the postseason for the program, ever. Rocker is 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 90 strikeouts over 62.2 innings in the postseason, including a 7-0 record in the NCAA Tournament.
He’s 4-0 in Omaha and 3-0 when pitching in elimination games while allowing just two runs and striking out 11 or more batters each time. Already boasting a national championship and College World Series MVP from Vandy’s 2019 run, Rocker could make it two of each after Wednesday night.
“[Rocker is] probably one of the best to ever play in college baseball,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “I keep telling our guys it's going to be a tough road. We'll have to beat the best if we want to win a national championship. One of the keys is to grind him out and make him throw his breaking stuff in the zone. So, for us, (it’s) to have good at-bats, to be locked in, to make him work, which is what we do — that's usually our goal anyway, no matter who is pitching.”
Wednesday night’s national championship final has all the makings of a classic pitcher’s duel. Mississippi State will counter Rocker with its ace, Will Bednar. The sophomore righty is s 8-1 with a 3.34 ERA and 135 strikeouts this year. Batters are hitting .226 against him.
However, Mississippi State has its work cut out as Rocker leads the NCAA in wins (14) and ranks second in strikeouts (173), 11th in WHIP (0.90) and 16th in both strikeouts per nine innings (13.23) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.28). He has held opposing batters to a .164 average, and the Commodores are also 16-3 this year when Rocker starts.
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