Rocker saves Vandy’s year with no-hitter, 19 K’s

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Freshman Kumar Rocker pitched the eighth no-hitter in NCAA tournament history Saturday night, striking out a career-high 19 as Vanderbilt beat Duke 3-0 to force the Nashville Super Regional to a deciding third game.

Rocker tied his previous career best with 10 strikeouts through five innings, and his slider worked so well he retired 13 of 15 Duke batters with it. He struck out four in the fifth, with one batter striking out only to reach first on a wild pitch. Rocker (10-5) had not thrown more than 105 pitches in a game, but he came out for the bottom of the ninth and struck out the side swinging.

He walked only two on 131 pitches, with 89 of those strikes.

“The eighth [inning] was the one I had to get over,” Rocker said. “The ninth came. I said I’m here, I might as well do it.”

It was the first no-hitter in the NCAA tournament since Florida’s Jonathon Crawford shut out Bethune-Cookman on June 1, 2012. Kumar threw the first individual Vanderbilt no-hitter since 1971, and said it wasn’t hard keeping his composure.

“I’m trying to win. That’s all I’m trying to do, to be honest,” he said. “Every inning, I was trying to win. It sounds like whatever, but I was just trying to win for the team.”

Now Vanderbilt (53-11) will play Duke on Sunday as the Commodores attempt to reach their fourth College World Series and first since 2015; the Blue Devils (35-26) haven’t been since 1961.

Rocker hit the second batter he faced with a pitch near the left eye of centerfielder Kennie Taylor. Taylor went down in pain with the sellout crowd silent while trainers treated him. Fans gave him a standing ovation when Taylor sat up, then stayed silent until he stood up and walked off the field.

Taylor was back in the dugout icing the left side of his face by the eighth inning. TV announcers said he had gotten X-rays and a CT scan at a local hospital.

Damon Lux replaced him as a runner, and Rocker struck out Matt Mervis, with Philip Clarke throwing out Lux at second.

Bryce Jarvis, MVP of the Morgantown Regional after striking out 11 for Duke, grew up a Vanderbilt fan in Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville. Jarvis got the first two outs of the fifth, then Ethan Paul singled. Paul stole second, then advanced to third on a wild pitch by Jarvis. He scored when Clarke poked a single into right field for the first run of the game.

Pat DeMarco thought he had a two-run home run to follow only to be robbed by Lux with a great catch at the wall.

Rocker struck out side in fifth inning to tie his career high with 10 strikeouts, though Ethan Murray reached base on a pitch Clarke couldn’t handle. That also set a Vanderbilt record for most strikeouts in a super regional game, topping Carson Fulmer’s nine against Stanford in 2014.

Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price, who has remained close to the Vanderbilt program since pitching for the Commodores, was impressed with Rocker’s performance.

Vanderbilt added two in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Stephen Scott and a squeeze bunt by Julian Infante.

Jarvis (5-2) struck out nine in seven innings, taking the loss.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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