Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker dominated on the mound once again in a Commodores victory over Mississippi State in the Winners’ Bracket. Here’s every postgame quote.
TIM CORBIN: Well, we just got a very good start from a very good pitcher. In order to beat those guys, you have to be able to command your fastball and breaking ball and keep them off base and not give them anything extra. I thought Kumar responded to his challenge particularly well, especially once he got done with the first inning, runners on first and second and an out and got us deep into the ballgame. Very impressive for sure. And then the back end of that game, getting those seven difficult outs was — Tyler’s outing was equally as impressive at the end. It’s tough to shut them down. You can feel them coming. But he didn’t allow any base runners, and at the end, got the last three outs. Of course Scotty’s hits were the difference in the ballgame in terms of our scoring. We had opportunities early and didn’t get a timely hit, but his first home run kind of broke the game open. I thought JJ’s double and driving a run in was big for our kids, and then certainly the ball that Scotty hit out. But we played good defense behind our pitchers, and we just moved forward.
Q. How good did it feel to come out and do what you did today?
STEPHEN SCOTT: Yeah, it felt really good. We went into this game confident with Kumar on the mound, and he really showed up, and that’s a pretty scary team top to bottom, so we were looking to give him some run support.
Q. Kumar, nobody else here has pitched in Omaha immediately after throwing a no-hitter. You have. What’s that pressure like of carrying that into Omaha, and what did you do to prepare to follow up a no-hitter throwing in Omaha for the first time?
KUMAR ROCKER: Yeah, the no-hitter, I moved forward from that. I couldn’t think of that while on the mound. I knew if I went out there and tried to win that things would go JJ catching fire, it was a good game.
Q. Kumar, how did you feel about your stuff, and what was your approach against that lineup?
KUMAR ROCKER: I think they were sitting curveball, of course, judging by the last outing, and then I just tried to move the fastball around a little bit and still had some success with the curveball, and just working some changeups to the lefties, as well.
Q. Stephen, walk us through those two home runs. Were you sitting on a certain pitch there? What happened?
STEPHEN SCOTT: Not necessarily. The second one, runners on first and third, I was just looking to get a barrel on the ball and hope for the rest. So like I said, we were trying to give Kumar a little run support. We were pretty confident up 1-0, but at the same time we were expecting that they were going to push, and they ended up doing that, and Tyler came in and shut them down.
Q. Kumar, what advice do you have for kids who are facing a pitcher like you?
KUMAR ROCKER: Ooh, say to sit fastball. If they see my fastball and they sit it, they should have success with it.
Q. Tyler, you’re warm, getting ready to come in in the seventh inning there, waiting to come out the bullpen door. How badly did you want to finish that one off?
TYLER BROWN: I wanted to really bad because of last year. We all know what happened. I feel like I needed to do it for my team, and I was excited just to do it for my brothers that were behind me.
Q. Kumar, you didn’t work as quickly as you did last week. Was it the heat? You were still pretty good in spite of that, but what was up with the pacing today? It was a little different than what we had seen in?
KUMAR ROCKER: Yeah, being in that environment, to be honest, after the first inning I looked up and said, all right, I’m good now. That first inning I was a little bit zoned out, I had to take my time and get my feet under me and just kind of start cruising. It took me a little bit to do that. And I wanted to definitely focus on pitching with that lineup top to bottom.
Q. Kumar, Mississippi State said you throw a slider, you said a curveball. What makes it so effective I guess is the question?
KUMAR ROCKER: You’ve got to ask Duke and State that. I couldn’t tell you, I just throw it.
Q. Tyler, when you come in that early, you’re not coming in in the ninth, you come in late in the seventh, how does your job change? How does your approach change knowing you’ve got to take it a little longer?
TYLER BROWN: Doesn’t change at all for me. I just try to do it pitch by pitch, and again, for the brothers that are behind me because they give me a lot of confidence, and I have a lot of confidence in them, and I’ve got to battle, and it doesn’t matter how long or how many pitches, I’ll do it.
Q. Kumar, a long way off since that last start, and then it gets pushed an extra day. What did your last week and a half look like in terms of throwing, especially when you’re also coming off such a heavy outing the last time?
KUMAR ROCKER: Right. The staff, the training, the trainers, they were with me the whole time, and just stretching, moving the body around, staying loose. That was really the key to it.
Q. Just looking at Stephen Scott, he’s a guy that hit with some power obviously last year, but he’s a much more consistent hitter this year. What have you seen in his development over the last year as a hitter?
TIM CORBIN: Zone control. I just think the ability when they get older is not to overswing and recruit power. I think he’s tempered that. I think he’s more compact, and before he enters the zone with his bat. He’s a strong kid but he’s shown the ability to hit both sides of the field. He’s just been consistent throughout the year. This is the most consistent he’s been. But when you start piling up at-bats over time, then you start becoming more experienced, and he’s done that.
Q. Tim, you can tell my Kumar’s body language he’s really wanting to move beyond the no-hitter. We talked about that the other day, how he would handle that. How did he handle that, moving on from that, to pitch well today?
TIM CORBIN: Well, he handled it well. You never know when you go into this situation. A lot of that talk is — it’s barbershop talk, so you’ve got to — the only thing that you can do is control what’s possible for you, and he did that. He was in full control of his workouts leading up to this. He’s been very, very consistent throughout the year. He’s a very impressive young guy in terms of his training habits and his maturity and how he approaches the game. And to his point, I think once he got by the first inning, I felt like, okay, he’s going to pitch well. It’s very difficult to get on the mound for the first time here in Omaha, especially for a young kid. But I thought he handled himself appropriately and very well.
Q. Tim, stuff aside, what are the intangible parts of what Kumar brings to the table that allowed him to handle the stardom of throwing a no-hitter when your backs are against the wall, and then coming here to Omaha and being able to pitch so effectively?
TIM CORBIN: I just think he competes well. When it gets down to it, when you see guys that back up performances or become consistent, it’s all about competition and their mindset inside of competition. He said it, and he just wants to win, and that’s what he does. He approaches the game that way. There’s no pomp and circumstance. He’s not trying to posture, he’s not trying to do anything but get out there and compete, and he’s a very good competitor. He loves to compete, and he loves these moments. So I think that was it. What he told you was true. I didn’t speak to him this week because if I spoke to him, it would be different than how I approached him or handled him during the course of the year. If I’m going to speak to him, I’m going to speak to him within the team. But we moved from that as quickly as possible. The only time that gets brought up is from the questions outside of our circle, but he did a nice job.
Q. You brought Raby in; there’s one scenario where you say if you need a fourth game before the Championship Series, maybe Patrick starts that game. Can you walk through kind of what your thinking is in the long-term of pitching Raby today and maybe not having him if you need him for a fourth game?
TIM CORBIN: Well, it was all about winning today. This was such a crucial game for so many different reasons, and we were going to utilize whoever we needed today in order to win that game, whether it’s Raby or whether it was Hickman. We just wanted to piece that together. But as we got deeper into that ballgame, we knew we were going to hand the ball to Patrick and at some point get Tyler in the game, and if need be, potentially throw Hickman or one of the lefties. But there was no long-term plan. You’ve got to be very short-term in this particular situation because it’s all about today.
Q. Given that he spends every day in the lineup with JJ and Austin and what they’ve done this year, do you feel like what Stephen has given you is a little bit overlooked or underappreciated nationally?
TIM CORBIN: No, there’s not one person on the team that’s overlooked. They play their part to the best of their ability. They know who they are, they’ve got good awareness of their skill set, and they stay in their lane. No one is overlooked. They’re all good players.
Q. What was the approach for you guys against Plumlee and what impressed you about how early you were able to chase him and get to him?
TIM CORBIN: Well, I just think not trying to do too much. He’s a very good pitcher. He’s crafty. His ball sinks. We had to get him up. We had to get him over the plate, and we really had to try to use the middle of the field to the best of our ability. I thought we were okay. I can’t tell you you walk away from that one, and we certainly had some good swings, but we didn’t overwhelm him. I thought he did a nice job. But we just had to get him in the zone and try to use the middle of the field.
Q. You touched on it a minute ago there, but could you maybe speak to the importance of this game and how it sets you guys up for the rest of the tournament going forward?
TIM CORBIN: Well, it just sets us up to get to Friday. I think by winning this game, we just don’t have to play Thursday. I think Chris would, like any other coach, you look at day by day by day, we just move the tournament to Friday, that’s all that matters. We’re not thinking ahead, we’re just thinking and preparing for what we’ve got to do. We just wanted to be successful so we could keep our pitching staff together.
Mississippi State quotes
CHRIS LEMONIS: Tough game. You’ve got to give credit to Vanderbilt. I thought Kumar Rocker was really good to start and Tyler Brown was really good to finish.
We didn’t manage the fifth. The fifth is what gets us a little bit. But you’ve got to credit their players and Stephen Scott, he hit a couple balls that changed the game.
Q. Jake, you’ve seen a lot of talented young pitchers in your career. What’s your assessment of Kumar Rocker for Vandy?
JAKE MANGUM: He was able to command two pitches for strikes. He’s got a fastball that’s mid-90s and a 12-6 slider that works. He was able to keep us off balance. He pitched really, really well. He’s a freshman. That speaks volumes of his last two starts. The future is really bright for him. He’s a really talented kid, and he’s going to have a great career at Vanderbilt.
Q. Keegan, entered in a similar spot to Cole the other night, they had the lead, and you had to hold things down. How did you feel like you handled that situation, and what it was like and the chance to do it on the big stage?
KEEGAN JAMES: I’ve been in that situation before last year at Vanderbilt. When Coach calls your name, you’ve got to be ready. I’ve been putting in a lot of work the past couple weeks. Had a really good feel for all three of my pitches for the majority of the game today, and I just was confident. That’s all it was.
Q. Jake, what about Kumar’s slider makes it just so difficult to — he generates a lot of swing and miss off of it, but it’s unconventional.
JAKE MANGUM: I only saw it once, and that was — so it’s tough for me to tell you about it because the one I saw I swung and hit the first. But from what I saw from the dugout, it really looked like it just was on the same plane as his fastball, and when you’ve got two pitches that can move completely different ways at completely different miles per hour, if it comes out of the hand the same way, it’s going to be tough to keep your balance and stay behind the ball. And give him credit, he threw it where he wanted to, and he’ll do well.
Q. Jake, you guys have been in a similar situation, regionals and super regionals. You had to win three or four games in a row in a few days. How prepared do you feel like you are for a potential stretch like that?
JAKE MANGUM: I mean, that was a tough one to swallow, but it is what it is, and we’ve got to go home tonight and turn the page quick. We’ve got a really good team tomorrow that we’ve got to play against, and it’s going to be another great college baseball game in Omaha. Got to be ready to go.
Q. Chris, Stephen Scott has had a really big year for those guys. As a coach, what do you see from him on film, and what did you see from him today with those two homers?
CHRIS LEMONIS: Their whole lineup has had a really good year, so as you look at them, I was looking at it last night, and you’ve got double-digit home runs there late in their lineup with a couple guys. And I thought we pitched him good at times and we left some balls over the plate, and for a good hitter, man, he took advantage of it and crushed them. He didn’t miss them and took advantage of our — the pitches that we threw.
Q. Coach, do you expect to see JT Ginn tomorrow?
CHRIS LEMONIS: Yeah, JT will be starting tomorrow night.
Q. We hear a lot about Kumar’s slider and how well it’s been working lately. Is that just a pretty good pitch for a freshman, or is that an elite pitch?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I think it’s an elite pitch because what he does, he throws you one for a strike, and then he throws you that one that’s right on the knees and ends up being — and his slider is a little bit more down than it is side, so it’s kind of going under a lot of barrels, and then when you throw 95 on top of it, it just — you’re having to commit to something pretty early with him, and that’s what makes it tough. I thought he just had a lot of poise for a freshman. Really good job today.
Q. Keegan had a couple of tough outings, and he’s been kind of up and down this year. What did you see from him differently today and maybe the last couple of times he’s been out that’s kind of settled things down for him and allowed him to come in and eat up some innings and get some outs?
CHRIS LEMONIS: He’s just commanding the zone. Like he told you, he had three pitches for strikes, and when he does that, he’s always been really good. He just lost the strike zone a little bit at times. When you have a regional or super regional, you don’t have midweek games in the conference tournament, so he’s kind of been that guy that we’ve thrown in the midweeks in terms of we threw against each other, and he’s been dominating our hitters the last two weeks in between the regional and super regional. We had games where we went Liebelt, Gordon, and that was pretty much it, so he’s been sitting over there. I had a good feeling he’d pitch well today.
Q. How did you feel Peyton pitched under the circumstances there after his first two NCAA tournament showings?
CHRIS LEMONIS: You know, I thought he was great. We kind of hurt him a little bit in the first because we don’t catch a ball, he pitches out of it. He pitches out of the inning in the third where we get to first and second, and that’s what concerned me in the fifth is there’s an old coaching rule, there’s three jams, you’re not getting out of the third one. I go out to get him then, but I thought he was pretty good. He pitched with good stuff. It was just a really good lineup that can put pressure on you with the home run or the runners, but I was proud of Peyton.
Q. Chris, in the fifth inning there with the bases loaded, Tanner Allen throws to second. Would you have preferred for him to try to go home and get the double play there?
CHRIS LEMONIS: That’s tough. Yeah, probably, in hindsight. But when you’re in the moment, Tanner thought he had that double play. He’s played great first base for us all year. We always say that ball can take you either way. I just think it was kind of a squib, so I think that’s the piece that got him a little bit.
Q. I know you probably want it under different circumstances and obviously there’s a challenge in facing Louisville tomorrow itself, but have you thought about maybe how neat it is that Omaha is going to set you up with Dan and that team?
CHRIS LEMONIS: Yeah, it’s a — we always say if we’re going to play each other, we’re not scheduling each other, I can tell you that, but if we play each other, we’d want it to be Omaha. We were just hoping we were in different brackets and in the last games. Obviously one of us will go home, but one of us will get to keep playing. But the reality is it’s Mississippi State against Louisville, and Dan nor I get to swing a bat or hopefully him not steal a base or anything like that. It’ll come down to the kids.
Q. Obviously you’d rather get to Friday today, but as far as the pitching is concerned, do you feel pretty good about what you’ve got left? Keegan got you three innings today. Do you feel good about what you have left?
CHRIS LEMONIS: I do. You take it day by day and assess it. That’s all we can do in our world. JT is fresh, and we’ve got — we didn’t use Cole, we didn’t use Liebelt, Colby threw a hitter, Trysten threw five pitches. So we have some guys available, and some other guys there on the bench. It was nice to see Eric Cerantola get out there and get a hitter there, so we’d have him available, too.