NASHVILLE, Tenn.—On a typical weekend, an 18-run outburst would finish as the highlight of a series. But this isn’t just any typical weekend.
After pouring in 18 runs in a dominant win Friday evening, the Blue Devils were no-hit by freshman Kumar Rocker in a 3-0 losing effort to No. 2 Vanderbilt Saturday night at Hawkins Field. Rocker—who was named to the All-SEC freshman team and entered the contest 9-5 with a 3.91 ERA—touched 99 miles per hour, allowed only two balls to reach the outfield and struck out 19 in the dominating outing, forcing a win-or-go-home Game 3 tomorrow afternoon to decide who moves on to the College World Series.
“Congratulations to Kumar Rocker,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “He was really special tonight when his team needed him to be. I’ve been in college baseball for over 25 years and it was one of the best pitching performances that I’ve ever seen, particularly when you take into account what was at stake.”
With Rocker having already struck out the first two batters of the ninth, Matt Mervis stepped up to the plate as the only obstacle between the 6-foot-4 right-hander and history. And after the first baseman looked at two called strikes, Rocker got him swinging in the dirt to finish off his masterpiece.
Rocker's no hitter is the first for Vanderbilt in 48 years, the first in an NCAA super regional game and the first in any NCAA tournament contest since 2012.
Bryce Jarvis—who grew up just south of Nashville in Franklin, Tenn.—was magnificent yet again for Duke, allowing just one run in seven innings of work exactly one week after an eight-inning, no-run performance against No. 15 West Virginia in the Morgantown regional. Rocker was just better.
“It’s important not to focus on what anyone else is doing,” Jarvis said regarding how he was able to pitch through Rocker’s performance on the other side. “Just stay within yourself and keep going back out there for innings and know that you can only control what you can control and not get caught up in anything else.”
The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning, when Vanderbilt (53-11) was finally able to put a run on the board—though not from the sources one would expect. After Jarvis quickly got through Austin Martin and JJ Bleday via strikeout and groundout to begin the frame, shortstop Ethan Paul started the rally with a single to right.
The senior and ninth-round MLB Draft selection swiftly stole second before advancing to third when a wild pitch got stuck in the backstop. Not long after, catcher Phillip Clarke drove him in with a bloop single. The Commodores almost widened their advantage in the following at-bat, when center fielder Pat DeMarco blasted a shot to left-center field.
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But Damon Lux, who was in for the Blue Devils at center for an injured Kennie Taylor, leapt up and into the wall to rob DeMarco of an extra-base hit and keep Vanderbilt’s lead at 1-0. Lux also made a sliding catch earlier in the ball game.
Duke (35-26) underwent a scary moment in the bottom of the first, when a rising fastball struck Taylor in the face. The senior captain exited the game, but was able to walk off the field under his own power. His status for tomorrow remains to be determined.
“The Vanderbilt medical staff was terrific in terms of how they cared for Kennie,” Pollard said. “I couldn’t believe how quick he was back in the dugout cheering on his team. So we got a good report.”
Vanderbilt’s first offensive threat came in the top of the second, when two walks and a single put two men on and one out for the Commodores. But Jarvis responded, striking out Julian Infante and getting Martin to chase on a breaking ball in the dirt to silence the rally.
Martin and Bleday—Vanderbilt’s two first team All-SEC members and arguably the best offensive duo in the nation—finished the evening a combined 1-for-8.
Finally in the eighth, after 126 pitches—his second straight start with that number—Jarvis was relieved in favor of Thomas Girard, and the Commodores took advantage immediately. DeMarco led off the inning with a triple that fell just out of reach of a diving Lux before Stephen Scott drove him in with a sac fly to center.
Vanderbilt would add one more insurance run later in the inning as well, this time off reliever Jack Carey. After second baseman Harrison Ray bunted his way to first, designated hitter Ty Duvall sent what seemed to be a routine fly ball to left.
But Kyle Gallagher misjudged it, and Duvall and Ray ended up at second and third after the ball bounced just inside fair territory. Soon, another bunt—this one via Infante—handed the Commodores a 3-0 lead they would not relinquish.
Both teams now head into a do-or-die Game 3 tomorrow at 3 p.m., with the winner earning a trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
“We have to have a short memory first and foremost,” Pollard said of his team’s mindset entering tomorrow. “We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves, and we won’t.... Guys need to realize that just a night ago we had arguably our best offensive approach of the year. So we’ve got to come out tomorrow and put this behind us and be squarely committed to the moment.”