With stellar pitching taking center stage for both teams, Vanderbilt defeated East Carolina in a low-scoring first game of the Nashville Super Regional Friday, by a score of 2-0.
In a harbinger of things to come, the game started with three straight outs against East Carolina — with two ground balls to first and a pop fly. On the other end, junior pitcher Gavin Williams threw three consecutive strikeouts against Commodore hitters to complete the inning.
Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt’s 6-foot-5 junior pitcher, began to make his mark in the second inning, with his first two strikeouts of the game.
Also in the second inning, Vanderbilt plated the only run his team ended up needing in support of Rocker. His team struck first when sophomore infielder Parker Noland scored in on an RBI from junior infielder Javier Vaz. Rocker spoke to the importance of this run after the game, considering Williams was on the other side.
“I think it was one of those things, that’s kind of all you need at the moment,” Rocker said. “That’s what you’ve got to tell yourself as a pitcher going against a guy like that.”
After this run, Williams and Rocker settled back into a pitcher’s duel. The Commodores cut down the Pirates’ first baserunner in the fourth after a walk, catching Connor Norby trying to swipe second.
On the next pitch, Rocker completed a 3-2 count against sophomore infielder Thomas Francisco with another punchout.
“He feels these situations,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “He loves the arena of competition. That’s what separates him in so many different ways.”
It took nearly five innings for Rocker to allow a base hit, but ECU reached first in the fifth. It did not materialize into runs. Williams followed it up in the bottom of the inning, tossing three consecutive strikeouts for the second time.
Rocker and Williams continued to go at it, inning by inning. Rocker hit double digits for strikeouts in the sixth inning and Williams in the fifth. Williams kept hitters honest by offering a variety of pitches, primarily excelling with the fastball. Rocker performed similarly, mixing in his share of sliders and cutters along the way.
“I think I had everything working for me,” Rocker said. “It shows them something different.”
After brief deliberation at the bottom of the seventh, Williams continued to pitch despite having 104 pitches to that point. Rocker exited in the top of the eighth after throwing 117 pitches with 11 strikeouts.
“I felt like I held my own the whole game,” Williams said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much. I was just trying to give our team a shot to win.”
Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield Jr. dove into home in the eighth to add an insurance run for the host team. He was initially called out, but after video review, was ruled safe by the umpiring crew. Williams later came out of the game having thrown 111 pitches, with 13 strikeouts.
“Gavin didn’t want to come out the game even when he came out the game,” East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin said. “I thought he was as good as he’s been all year. Especially the length that he went.”
The Pirates went scoreless again in the top of the ninth inning and Vanderbilt earned the win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 series. Game 2 is Saturday at noon on ESPN2.