Vanderbilt's Kumar Rocker shuts down Tennessee baseball to take game one

Adam Sparks
Nashville Tennessean

Kumar Rocker made sure Vanderbilt took round one of a three-game series between highly-ranked baseball rivals Friday night.

No. 2 Vanderbilt won 5-0 over No. 3 Tennessee in the opener of the SEC series in Knoxville, as the right-handed Rocker sliced through the Vols' batting order.

Rocker, a projected top-5 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, didn't allow a hit until two outs in the fifth inning. By then, he had already set the tone by striking out six of UT's batters at least once.

Rocker (8-1) allowed only two hits in seven shutout innings. He struck out eight and walked one on 97 pitches, exiting with a 5-0 lead.

It proved that Rocker’s first loss a week ago was an anomaly rather than a trend. He gave up six earned runs and three home runs, both career highs, in that 14-2 loss to Georgia.

But he was dialed in against Vols. He added fuel to his fastball, which appeared to slightly slow down against Georgia. It was clocked around 93 mph for much of the outing against the Bulldogs. But his heater sat around 96 mph against the Vols and touched 99.

It was only Rocker's second game pitching against UT. As a freshman in 2019, he allowed six earned runs on 10 hits, both career highs, in arguably the worst outing of his career.

But that was before Rocker won the College World Series MVP later that year and became one of college baseball's most dominant pitchers. He looked the part against the Vols this time.

Nick Maldonado finished off the win with two hitless, scoreless innings of relief.

UT right-hander Chad Dallas (5-1) took his first loss despite a strong outing. He allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and struck out seven in seven innings. 

Vanderbilt improved to 27-5 overall and 10-3 in the SEC atop the East Division. UT dropped to 28-7 overall and 9-4 in the SEC.

Game two is set for 3 p.m. CT Saturday on SEC Network. Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter (7-0, 0.55 ERA) and UT left-hander Will Heflin (2-1, 4.24 ERA) will start on the mound.

Why Vols coach Tony Vitello got ejected

UT coach Tony Vitello was ejected in the middle of the seventh inning. He was arguing a call from the top of the seventh.

Vanderbilt's Jayson Gonzalez chopped a foul ball down the third-base line, which teammate Isaiah Thomas caught one-handed in foul territory before it was ruled a foul ball.

UT pitching coach Frank Anderson ran from the dugout after the play. Vitello walked out between innings and got into it with home plate umpire Darren Spagnardi, who ejected Vitello as he returned to the dugout.

Home runs gave Vanderbilt momentum, lead

Gonzalez and Carter Young hit solo home runs in the third and sixth innings, respectively, to put Vanderbilt ahead 3-0.

It was Gonzalez’s fifth home run of the season, tying the career high set in his 2018 freshman year. Young’s eighth home run of the season leads the team. 

Parker Noland, a former Farragut standout, got Vanderbilt on the board in the second inning. He doubled to left field and then scored on a UT error.

Speed helped Commodores pull away

Enrique Bradfield, the SEC's stolen base leader, stretched Vanderbilt's lead to 4-0 in the eighth. He beat the throw to first base on a high chopper to the second baseman for an infield single.

Bradfield took second on a failed pick-off attempt. When he tried to steal third, UT catcher Connor Pavolony's throw was wide and went to left field, scoring Bradfield.

C.J. Rodriquez singled in another run for a 5-0 lead through eight.

Mike Wilson contributed to this report. Reach Adam Sparks at and on Twitter @AdamSparks.