Freshman pitcher lifts Vanderbilt to 4-1 win over Michigan

OMAHA, Neb. — Vanderbilt’s go-to guy throughout the postseason once again delivered a dominant performance.

Freshman Kumar Rocker struck out 11 while pitching 6 ⅓ innings of three-hit ball, and Vanderbilt got to Michigan’s shaky bullpen in a 4-1 win in Game 2 of the College World Series finals Tuesday night.

The Commodores (58-12), who set the SEC single-season wins record, forced a winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park.

“We had the right guy on the mound,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “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.”

Rocker (12-5), who pitched a no-hitter against Duke in the super regionals the last time the Commodores faced elimination, set the tone in another in a line of strong performances. Ten of the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Rocker’s first 11 pitches were strikes.

Michigan (50-21) failed to score in the opening inning for the first time in its five CWS games, and five of its first six batters struck out.

“He’s as advertised,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He’s got a special breaking ball that’s tough to see. You try to sit on a fastball, and he throws enough of those breaking balls for strikes. You try to sit on the breaking ball, and he gets you with a 95-mph fastball.”

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Paige (4-1), pitching for the first time since June 8 in regionals, drew the start for Michigan and worked four-plus innings.

The problems for the Wolverines started after Paige departed. The Commodores picked up an unearned run in the fifth and then Jack Weisenberger, who relieved Benjamin Keizer with two runners on in the sixth, let in two runs on wild pitches to back-to-back batters.

Philip Clarke’s ninth homer, against Angelo Smith, made it 4-0.

Other than Jeff Criswell, a starter until the postseason, Michigan’s bullpen hadn’t been tested until Tuesday. The Wolverines used only three pitchers in winning their first four CWS games.

“I thought early we were squeezing it,” Corbin said. “We settled in a little bit better as the game went along, and we took the runs that were given to us. But at the same time, I thought we hit the ball better from the fifth inning and on, after Clarkey hit that home run actually.”

Rocker worked around two singles, two walks and two errors through six shutout innings. Jack Blomgren singled against him leading off the seventh and a balk put him on second. Rocker struck out Joe Donovan and then left to an ovation from the fans behind the Vanderbilt dugout.

Eric Olson is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Freshman-pitcher-lifts-Vanderbilt-to-4-1-win-over-14050067.php.

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