NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The expected pitchers’ duel between Gavin Williams and Kumar Rocker to begin the super regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament might have actually exceeded expectations.
They produced 24 total strikeouts Friday in Vanderbilt’s 2-0 victory over East Carolina in Game 1 of their best-of-three series.
Williams tied his career-high of 13 Ks in 7.1 innings in the most important outing of his four-year ECU career against Rocker, a possibility for the No. 1 pick this year in the Major League Baseball draft. Rocker struck out 11 in 7.2 scoreless innings.
“I did feel comfortable,” said Williams, who yielded two runs on seven hits and two walks. “It was just another baseball game. You can’t worry about the name on the other jersey, but just worry about the present moment.”
Each of the Pirates’ three hits were singles.
Williams threw a few 99 mph pitches during the bottom of the first, when he struck out three Commodores. He settled in at the mid-90s range during the later innings in a performance that kept his team in striking distance all game despite ending in a loss.
“I’ll take Gavin Williams over anybody in the country,” Pirate coach Cliff Godwin said. “I know we got beat today, but I’ll take that guy. We are not sitting here in Nashville without that guy. I’ll take him every single step of the way.”
Williams struck out all three Vandy batters in the bottom of the fifth to reach 10 Ks.
Rocker, who was not throwing as hard as Williams but was very effective with his movement and off-speed pitches, made his final start at Hawkins Field. The starting pitchers, who are both juniors, each received a standing ovation from the crowd of 3,510.
“I think (teammate) Cooper (Davis), when I got taken out, asked how it feels in my last time pitching here, and that’s when it kind of set in,” Rocker said. “I’m glad I didn’t take it for granted and I’m glad we have one more to play to get to Omaha.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said the first run by his club was especially important. After a Williams strikeout on Isaiah Thomas to start the bottom of the second, Parker Noland put down a bunt single before going to third base on CJ Rodriguez’s double to left field.
Javier Vaz plated Noland with a groundout to second baseman Connor Norby.
Vandy’s other run in the eighth inning also came on a ground ball in the infield. Enrique Bradfield got his hand under ECU catcher Seth Caddell’s tag at the plate for a 2-0 edge on a ball chopped to third baseman Zach Agnos and thrown home to try to keep it at 1-0.
“Credit to (Williams) because he pitched a really good game and we just did all we could to get those runs across,” Vaz said. “We always want the momentum in our dugout and getting that (first) run was big and jump-started us for a little bit. Having (Rocker) on the mound, we don’t have to do much.”
A.J. Wilson faced one batter in relief of Williams, and Cam Colmore got two outs in two batters, leaving them and Carson Whisenhunt, Matt Bridges and C.J. Mayhue all available for the Pirates for Game 2, which is set for a noon broadcast on ESPN2.