OMAHA, Nebraska — Jayson Gonzalez bats ninth for Vanderbilt baseball, not the spot clutch hits are typically expected. But despite the star power in the Commodores’ lineup, it was Gonzalez, the senior, who was the Commodores’ hero at TD Ameritrade Stadium.
Gonzalez’s single with the bases loaded in the 12th inning propelled the Commodores past Arizona, 7-6, in a marathon game to begin their College World Series defense on Saturday.
Gonzalez’s heroics, which included a game-tying two-run homer in the fourth, made up for a rocky start from Kumar Rocker, who was chased in the sixth inning after giving up his third earned run and fifth run overall.
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Billed as a battle between an elite offense and an elite pitching staff, the game didn’t disappoint. It took 4 hours, 51 minutes to determine a winner, the fourth-longest game in College World Series history.
Vanderbilt (46-15), the reigning national champion from 2019, will face N.C. State in the winners’ bracket on Monday at 6 p.m. The Wolfpack (36-18) beat Stanford, 10-4, on Saturday.
Rocker’s start was down and up and down again. He gave up three runs in the first inning, in part due to a series of defensive miscues. Then he retired 15 straight batters, making one of the best lineups in the country look pedestrian.
He racked up seven strikeouts, including the 300th of his career, before Ryan Holgate got ahold of Rocker’s 100th pitch of the night for a two-run homer in the sixth.
Before Saturday, Rocker had an NCAA Tournament ERA of 0.63, a 6-0 record and just three earned runs given up. Even with just three earned runs allowed Saturday, it still marked as Rocker’s worst NCAA Tournament start.
Gonzalez, Young deliver
Gonzalez, who missed the shortened 2020 season because of a leave of absence, had the game-tying home run in the fourth. It was his second game-tying homer of the tournament, along with the one he hit against Georgia Tech in the Nashville Regional.
Carter Young put Vanderbilt back in the lead in the seventh. Coming to bat after Enrique Bradfield plated Gonzalez with an RBI single, Young launched a two-run home run to give the Commodores a 6-5 lead. It was Young’s first home run since he injured his shoulder on May 18 against Florida International. Since returning during the regional, Young had just three hits and one extra-base hit before the home run.
Vanderbilt had three fielding errors on Saturday.
An error and a misjudged fly in left field in the first inning played a role in Rocker’s tough start, and the Commodores were haunted by miscues throughout the game.
Vanderbilt loaded the bases with one out in the 11th before Arizona struck out Dominic Keegan and got pinch-hitter Spencer Jones to ground out and end the threat.
The Commodores got the leadoff man on every inning from the ninth through the 12th but couldn’t score until the final frame.