Commodores dominate the Flames, clinch series win

Kumar Rocker recorded 12 strikeouts over six innings in the team's Saturday win.

Carter+Young+%289%29+swings+at+a+low+pitch+in+Vanderbilt%27s+9-3+victory.+

Mattigan Kelly

Carter Young (9) swings at a low pitch in Vanderbilt's 9-3 victory.

Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

In his first appearance at Hawkins Field since his prolific no-hitter against Duke in the Super Regionals, Kumar Rocker shined on the mound yet again. This time it was against the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames as the Commodores took game two of the three-game set 9-3

After a shaky first inning, Rocker dominated the game with his tricky changeup that had the Flames hitters constantly off balance. The sophomore gave up one run over six innings pitched, surrendering just two hits and one walk while striking out twelve. 

“[I was] keeping hitters off of my fastball using my changeup,” Rocker said. “It’s probably a pitch they’ve never seen before especially in film and then showing them that today worked for me.”

Almost as impressive as Rocker was the early Commodore bats, which blew the game open by the second inning. Austin Martin had perhaps his best hitting performance of the season as he went 3-4 at the plate with two doubles and two runs. Additionally, four different Commodores recorded a pair of RBIs. 

“That was good to see,” Coach Tim Corbin said of the early offense. “We haven’t had a lot of that so just to see that in the [first] inning and then, really, they put together eight good at-bats after that in the second inning too. So to roll the order over a couple of times in two innings was good.”

Rocker was not immediately able to get into his groove as he struggled coming out of the gate. After striking out the first batter he faced, Rocker proceeded to plunk Thomas Norton near the head before walking Nick Lopez. Alex Dee then singled to left field to score Norton and break the Commodore’s streak of 27 scoreless innings pitched. With runners on the corners with just one out, it seemed like the Flames were poised for a big inning. However, as was the case so many times last season, Rocker remained composed and promptly struck out the next two batters to end the inning. 

“In the first inning, I just had to get settled in,” Rocker said. “First time at home, so there was a little adrenaline rush. Just kept telling myself to calm down.”

The Commodore offense immediately responded in the bottom of the first as they tied the game on Ty Duvall’s RBI single which scored Austin Martin who was on base with a two-out double. They weren’t done there, however. After Justyn-Henry Malloy drew a walk, Parker Noland and Isaiah Thomas both doubled to put the Commodores ahead 4-1. A hard-hit single by Harrison Ray scored one more, and Vanderbilt led 5-1 at the end of the first inning. 

As the Commodore bats came alive, so too did Rocker, who rebounded from his tough first inning by retiring the UIC batters in order in the top of the second. 

“It felt like in the first inning [he had] a little bit of a slow time getting going but once he got going he did very well,” Corbin said. “He attacked the zone and [there were] no free bases after [the first inning]; he threw a lot of strikes.”

The Vanderbilt bats picked off right where they left in the bottom of the second as Cooper Davis, CJ Rodriguez and Austin Martin each hit doubles to lead off the inning. A Duvall sacrifice fly added another run for the Commodores who extended their lead to 7-1, and then two more RBI singles from Noland and Ray brought the lead to 9-1 at inning’s end. 

The bats cooled off a little in the next few innings but Rocker remained red-hot, tossing four more scoreless innings, including the sixth, his final inning, where he struck out the side. 

Luke Murphy, a redshirt freshman, came on in relief of Rocker in the top of the seventh. After striking out his first batter, Murphy walked the next three to load bases for the nine-hole hitter Sean Dee. Dee drew another walk on five pitches to give the Flames a run, and that was it for Murphy. 

Murphy was replaced by Sam Hliboki, who inherited a tough situation with the bases loaded and just one out. The Flames got another run across on a fielder’s choice, but Hliboki got Thomas Norton to strike out looking, limiting the damage of a potentially disastrous inning. 

“[Hliboki] gets the ball to the glove,” Corbin said. “He’s very intentful in doing it too. To me, he pitches like an older kid. He doesn’t pitch like a young kid at all. He did a nice job of getting out of that inning.”

The Commodores had runners on the corners in the bottom of the eighth but were unable to capitalize as Thomas flew out to left. 

Fortunately for Vanderbilt, however, no more runs were needed, as Hliboki was perfect through two more innings pitched, and the Commodores were victorious 9-3.

The Commodores will go for the sweep of the Flames on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m.