Vanderbilt rallied to a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night to keep the Commodore’s CWS title hopes alive. Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker stuck out 11 pitchers in six innings to help force a Game 3. Here’s everything Tim Corbin, Philip Clarke and Kumar Rocker said after forcing a Game 3 in the CWS
TIM CORBIN: Well, I just think it was a very protective moment. We had the right guy on the mound. I was asked a lot of questions about him prior to today, and the thing that I knew that he would give us is compete. There’s no doubt in my mind. I haven’t been around him that long, but I know the fibers of the kid. I know how he’s directed. I know how he thinks. I know how he attacks, and I felt like we had a chance today with him on the mound, as I do with all of them, but it was just one of those situations that you’re asking a young man to come into a situation that he has been in before, and he did a very nice job, especially in the third and fourth when it got a little bit tough. Second and third, one out, second and third, two outs, and he took off some good hitters. He got us deep into that ballgame. Tyler, again, finished well for us.
Offense, it was tough to come by early. I thought we swung the bat better late. Phil’s hit was certainly a large one for us, just to spread the lead going into the final inning. Played some pretty good defense. There were some tough balls that we took care of, certainly Harrison’s play there at the end, but we take it and move forward.
Q. Philip, as a guy who’s sat back there and watched Kumar throughout the postseason, what goes through your mind when you watch a guy with stuff like that?
PHILIP CLARKE: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible, but I would say the main thing is it’s comforting as a team to have a freshman that can do what he does on a daily basis, on a weekly basis. It gives us the energy we need, especially on a day like today.
Q. Kumar, two out of the last three starts for you have come with your team’s season on the line. Did you approach those outings any different from a mental standpoint just to go to a new, different level?
KUMAR ROCKER: No, the first one, whatever comes with that and I’m worried about it, I just think about my team and I think, yeah, they’re going to hit. They’ve got me if I fail.
Q. Philip, we see sometimes that you’re really emotional and Kumar is kind of a cool customer and other times he’s pumping his fist. What type of emotions does he have during the game and what does that tell you about how he’s pitching?
PHILIP CLARKE: He’s emotional when he needs to be, and at other times he’s not. I think that it just shows how strong his mind is, and especially for a freshman how mature he is. Sometimes I try to get him going, and sometimes he’s already there.
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Q. Kumar, to get out of those two innings with the two guys in scoring position, what did it take to get out of those, especially to throw the two sliders against Franklin there the first time?
KUMAR ROCKER: I remember looking back my past times at runners on third, I needed a good defense behind me and I needed to make pitches because the past times I think I put that runner in every time with two outs, so that was a big moment for me.
Q. Kumar, when Tyler got out of that seventh for you, you were pretty quick out of the dugout to congratulate him. What was that like seeing him finish it off, and then what he did the next couple innings?
KUMAR ROCKER: That was something we talked about last night. We woke up thinking about each other, and we knew what our plan was going into the game, and he was with it and I was with it. I picked him up right when I got taken out of the game. He knew what the deal was.
Q. Kumar, for your freshman year to end here and have the ups and downs it had, but to not only have the last three starts be so good, but to end it in Omaha, what does it mean to you?
KUMAR ROCKER: I think it made me a better person in general. I remember when I couldn’t get that first inning against TCU. I remember Tennessee, I remember those days like they were yesterday, and to finish here with this team is awesome.
Q. Kumar, tonight seemed like you were starting some hitters with the changeup. How important was that pitch for you, especially early in the game?
KUMAR ROCKER: Yeah, I didn’t throw one changeup. I think — yeah, let’s go with slider. I think landing the slider early in the count is a big thing for hitters in general.
Q. Tim, as you watch Kumar do what he’s done throughout the postseason, have you ever seen a freshman that poised in that big of a situation, and what do you attribute that to?
TIM CORBIN: I haven’t, because I don’t think we’ve had a freshman in that situation before. I attribute it to his maturity and his — how he prepares. That was the one thing that stood out with me when I was talking to Browny about him down in the pitching lab in October. He said the kid takes initiative of everything he’s doing. He’s a director. He’s not an actor. You don’t have to tell him what to do. There’s a clear difference. He directs himself.
When he’s coached, he doesn’t sit there and just “yeah, yeah” you. He’s curious. He asks good questions. He’s a sponge. I just see a kid that wants to really learn and wants to really, really be good. He wants to be special. And he’s got a chance to, because he pitches for his team. He said that, but that’s not manufactured, that’s a real feeling.
Q. Tim, both you and Erik have talked about being loose and your guys having fun in Omaha, but tomorrow is a pretty tense game. Do you want your guys to enjoy? Do you think they will enjoy tomorrow’s game?
TIM CORBIN: Well, you know, it’s easy to sit up here and say yes right now. I mean, they’ll do the best job they can to stay consistent with what they’ve done during the course of the year. I understand the situation. They understand the situation. Erik and his team does, too.
But they’ll put themselves in a good position to compete well tomorrow.
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Q. Tyler Brown went two and two thirds tonight. Do you see tomorrow him being of as much use, or will you have to limit him a little bit more than you did tonight?
TIM CORBIN: Everyone who steps in that dugout tomorrow will be in use or can be ready to play. Yep.
Q. Kumar at times was throwing the breaking ball 79, 80, which is a little lower than he normally sits with that. Was that intentional maybe to take a little something off it tonight, or has he done that before?
TIM CORBIN: No, was that the radar gun on the scoreboard? Yeah, I don’t trust that. He’s throwing well. If he’s missing a bat, I could say 68. It doesn’t matter; it’s a good pitch.
Q. Four runs today but a lot of hard-hit balls, a lot of deep flyouts. What did you think of the team’s offensive output?
TIM CORBIN: Better. I thought early we were squeezing it. It reminded me of the Duke second game to be honest with you. We were fighting to get some offense, leaving the zone, couldn’t get to the middle of the ball and chasing some off-speed pitches that were off the plate.
So, you know, you can’t fault kids for that because they’re just trying to compete and they’re trying to win for their team. But I thought we settled in a little bit better as the game went along, and we took the runs that happened to — that were given to us. But at the same time, I thought we hit the ball better from the fifth inning and on, after Clarkey hit that home run actually.
Q. On Tyler, you obviously have a game tomorrow if you get through this. Do you think in terms of win this game, that’s it, whatever it takes, use him as much as needed, or do you think in terms of how much can I use him tonight if we’re playing tomorrow, if that makes sense?
TIM CORBIN: Well, there’s no tomorrow without tonight, and you have to do whatever is possible within tonight. But tomorrow is a different deal. You get to tomorrow and understand it’s the last game of your season. There’s no turning back. I mean, everyone from an adrenaline standpoint is going to be ready to go. I don’t think there’s going to be any surprise from a readiness standpoint.
Q. To that point — I ask coaches this every year when we’re in a Game 3 — how much of your job over the next 24 hours might be as a sports psychologist? Do you have to worry about that with this group, or do they take care of themselves?
TIM CORBIN: No, I don’t worry about this group. I haven’t worried about this group all year. They’re that middle child that you don’t discipline, you don’t give a curfew to, you don’t do anything to, and they give you no reason to worry.
Now, in competition, yeah, it’s just being able to settle in and relax and play. But no, I don’t worry about that. I don’t.
Q. Tim, you’ve talked a lot about the maturity of this team and keeping focus on everything. How excited are you to just watch them play this game tomorrow night with something, like I said, unspoken, but this is always the goal? How excited are you just to watch them tomorrow?
TIM CORBIN: Well, I always feel that way. Once we get to the field or once we get on the bus, I don’t talk to them again. All the talking that I do with them is in a hotel or in a classroom when we’re back in Nashville. But once they get on that bus, that’s theirs. It’s theirs, and it’s theirs to enjoy. I never want to get in their way.
So I’m — yeah, I’ll be just as excited as I was today. I just couldn’t wait to play this game again, and I know they couldn’t, either. But yeah, tomorrow will be fun. We’re excited that we can be part of this. This is a great event, and I think a lot of times when I’m in the outfield just walking around, you have to squeeze yourself to say, we’ve been in this place for 13, 14 days, what a special feeling this is.
I’m just very happy that these guys get the opportunity to do it because it’s so difficult to get out here, and yet so difficult to be playing tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening, as well.