Vanderbilt defeats Michigan 4-1, forces deciding Game Three

Kumar Rocker did what he’s done for the past two months: dominate, and Vanderbilt will play for the title tomorrow night.

Vanderbilt needed a gem from its ace to keep its season alive.

On Tuesday night, Kumar Rocker delivered.

Rocker was excellent, hurling 6.1 innings of one-run ball and setting the program record for strikeouts in a College World Series game with a 4-1 win over the Michigan Wolverines.

The victory forces a deciding Game Three tomorrow night with a National Championship on the line.

“I was asked a lot of questions about him prior to today, and the thing that I knew that he would give us is compete,” said Corbin when asked about Rocker. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I haven’t been around him that long, but I know the fibers of the kid. I know how he’s directed. I know how he thinks. I know how he attacks, and I felt like we had a chance today with him on the mound.”

It was the latest in a series of dazzling starts from Rocker, who moves to 5-0 over his last five starts, sporting a 1.11 ERA and striking out 46 batters. His 11 strikeouts are the second most by a player in a College World Series Final.

“I remember when I couldn’t get that first inning against TCU,” said Rocker. “I remember Tennessee, I remember those days like they were yesterday, and to finish here with this team is awesome.”

Rocker didn’t get a ton of help from the offense, but he got just enough. An unearned run and a couple wild pitches gave Vanderbilt the lead in the middle innings, and Philip Clarke put a stamp on it, sending a home run into the bullpen in right field.

“Offense, it was tough to come by early,” said Corbin. “I thought we swung the bat better late. Phil’s hit was certainly a large one for us, just to spread the lead going into the final inning.”

Michigan head coach Erik Bakich took a risk throwing Isaiah Paige to start the ballgame. Paige, a redshirt freshman, hadn’t seen any action in the College World Series before Tuesday night, but he looked masterful.

Despite sitting in the mid-80s, Paige threw four scoreless innings, catching Vanderbilt’s hitters lunging at balls below the zone and pulling others far into foul ground.

Rocker matched him each inning, though.

After breezing through the first two innings, striking out five of the first six batters he faced, Rocker ran into a little trouble in the third and fourth. In both innings, he found himself facing runners on second and third with two away. Both times, Rocker worked his way out of it.

“He did a very nice job, especially in the third and fourth when it got a little bit tough,” Corbin said. “Second and third, one out, second and third, two outs, and he took off some good hitters.”

Paige came back out to begin the fifth inning, but was quickly pulled in favor of Benjamin Keizer following a Harrison Ray single. On Keizer’s first pitch, Ty Duvall laced a tailor-made double play ball on the ground to Jack Blomgren at short, but the ball skipped through Blomgren’s legs, giving the Commodores runners on the corners with nobody out. An Austin Martin groundout to third plated the first run of the game, and gave Vanderbilt a 1-0 lead.

Following the RBI groundout, two intentional walks to JJ Bleday and Ethan Paul gave Vanderbilt a shot to extend its lead, but Blomgren atoned for his error with a nice backhanded stop and throw to first to nail Philip Clarke and limit the damage.

After a quick inning from Rocker in the bottom half of the fifth that featured two strikeouts, Vanderbilt got back to work in the sixth. DeMarco smacked a leadoff single to left and Stephen Scott drew a walk to set up Ray, who bunted the runners over. Bakich brought in Jack Weisenburger to relieve Keizer, and Weisenburger hurled two wild pitches to extend Vanderbilt’s lead to 3-0.

Michigan threatened again in the sixth, as a Harrison Ray error followed by a Jordan Brewer base hit gave the Wolverines first and second with nobody out. Again, though, Rocker settled in, inducing a strikeout and two flyouts to end the inning.

The seventh inning started with a bang for the Commodores. Philip Clarke tattooed a slider from Angelo Smith over the right field wall for his first home run of the College World Series.

Hunter Long
Philip Clarke celebrates after launching a home run to right to give his team a 4-0 lead.

Michigan finally answered in the bottom half of the inning. After a Blomgren single chased Rocker out of the game, Corbin turned to Tyler Brown to get eight outs. Before he could get one, Ako Thomas slapped a single to left, scoring Blomgren and giving the Wolverines their first run of the game. Brown looked shaky to start, but got Brewer looking to prevent any further damage and hold a 4-1 lead.

From there, he was in the zone. Brown retired the side in order in both the eighth and the ninth, shutting the door on the Wolverines and evening the series.

“Just spending more time with each other,” said Brown when asked what tonight’s win means. “None of us want to leave each other, for the older guys and what they’ve been through, letting them go out the right way.”

Vanderbilt did what it needed to do tonight. Just one game separates the Commodores and a National Championship.

That game is tomorrow at 6:00 CT.