After getting blasted by Duke 18-5 in Game 1 of its Super Regional series in the NCAA Tournament, Vanderbilt was on the verge of being eliminated. With the season on the line, the Commodores called upon a freshman pitcher, Kumar Rocker, to start Game 2 against the Blue Devils. A tall order for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old.
Rocker responded by pitching what some are already calling the greatest performance in college baseball history. The stats certainly back it up, as Rocker struck out 19 batters, one for every year of his life, and did not give up a single hit. It's the first no-hitter in Super Regionals history, and just the eighth in NCAA Tournament history. It's also the first for the school in 48 years. Afterwards, Rocker couldn't have been cooler about it, almost as if he expected it:
That final strikeout was his fourth in a row to end the game, and he retired each of the last 10 batters he faced, seven by strikeout. Rocker threw a total of 131 pitches in Vanderbilt's 3-0 victory, and walked only two batters. You can't come up any bigger in a do-or-die spot. You also can't have a better name than Kumar Rocker.
Perhaps the best moment of Rocker's performance came in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Rocker got the first two outs of the inning and then faced Duke infielder Chris Crabtree. In the hopes of getting Rocker out of his rhythm, or "icing" him, if you will, Crabtree and Blue Devils coach Chris Pollard had an offensive conference, aka a time out which is allowed in college baseball. As they slowly chatted, Rocker stood stoically on the mound and waited ... and waited ... and waited some more. When Crabtree was finally ready, he was utterly embarrassed, and Rocker made sure Crabtree and the rest of the Duke bench felt his presence:
What a moment. Lip readers can decipher what Rocker was saying to the Duke bench. Our best guess is that he went full Walker Buehler on him, fitting considering Buehler spent three years at Vandy himself, and was a member of the 2014 College World Series winning squad. Another former Vandy pitcher, David Price, had some nice things to say about Rocker afterwards:
High praise. What's most impressive about Rocker's performance is that he had never gone more than seven innings in any of his prior starts, though he did flash this potential before. In a game against Auburn in late April Rocker went seven strong and struck out 10, and he was riding a three-game winning streak entering Game 2 against the Dukies, with 16 strikeouts and just six earn runs and one walk during that span. Rocker was drafted out of high school by the Colorado Rockies in the 38th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, but he opted to go to college instead, meaning he could very well go in the first round to another team next year. Whoever takes him is getting an absolute stud. Let's hope Vandy wins Game 3 on Sunday so we get to see more of Rocker in the College World Series.