Vandy wins 3-1 at CWS as virus halves North Carolina state roster

Kumar Rocker struck out 11 strikeouts in six innings and Vanderbilt won 3-1 in the College World Series against a team from North Carolina State without half of their roster due to COVID-19 concerns

OMAHA, Neb – With half of his roster unavailable due to COVID-19 concerns, North Carolina state coach Elliott Avent gave his remaining players two picks ahead of their College game World Series vs. Vanderbilt on Friday.

Play or quit.

“Tell me what you want to do,” Advent told them. “It took about six seconds. This is who they are. We found a way to make it work. “

Kumar Rocker struck out 11 catches in six innings and Vanderbilt beat North Carolina State 3-1 in what ultimately turned out to be the Wolfpack’s last game of the season.

The NCAA announced early Saturday that NC State would not continue in the CWS due to COVID-19 protocols and that Vanderbilt would automatically advance to the best-of-three final starting Monday.

The Wolfpack were more competitive than expected under the circumstances against the No. 4 national seed and reigning national champion Commodores (48-16).

Friday’s game was delayed an hour after the NCAA said it was taking time to complete “health and safety protocols.” NC State (37-19) said in a statement that “multiple players” have entered the COVID-19 protocol.

Only 13 of the 27 players on the travel roster, including four pitchers, have been allowed to play. All 13 except one entered the game.

NC State coach Elliott Avent said he discovered there was a problem 45 minutes to an hour before the scheduled start time. He said the players would be tested again and if the results were negative some or all could play on Saturday.

Facing Rocker (14-3) is not easy for any team, especially one with a patchwork formation and whose bottom four hitters have combined for 27 at-bat.

“You throw at them like any other player,” Rocker said.

Rocker is a projected top-10 pick in the Major League Baseball Draft next month and was the CWS MVP in 2019. There was no CWS last year due to the pandemic.

Freshman Garrett Payne (0-1), who pitched a total of 8 1/3 innings in six relief games, discovered half an hour before the first pitch that he would replace scheduled starter Matt Willadsen.

“It’s almost back to the sand game,” said Vandy coach Tim Corbin. “We didn’t know who was going to pitch until five minutes before the game. So there is really nothing you can do about it. You knew he was right handed. You knew that once we got the information, we started giving the information to the children very quickly. “

Vanderbilt’s offense was slow to take off in Omaha, and the Commodores were never able to get comfortable against their overwhelmed opponent.

“It shows how strong we are,” Sam Highfill said. “We went out and played a hell of a game. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’re ready to start again tomorrow. “

NC State had eight hits to six for Vandy, and the bottom of the order fell to 4 for 14. Highfill, the starting pitcher in a 1-0 win over Vandy on Monday, was error-free as a player. replacement first baseman and went 3 for 4.

After two runs, NC State had the bases loaded in the seventh with their best home runner, Luca Tresh, at bat with two strikeouts. He went out. They left two runners on base three more innings and failed a total of 12.

The Commodores were hitless against Payne until they scored twice in the fourth. CJ Rodriguez picked Dominic Keegan and he came home to wild terrain laden with bases.

Payne left to applause from fans and the handful of players and staff in his dugout after launching a walk to start the sixth. He limited Vandy to two hits in an 87-pitched outing that was his longest of the season. The Wolfpack race came in fifth over three singles and a sacrifice fly.

Rocker struck out the first six hitters on strikes – the first pitcher to do this at CWS since Virginia’s Danny Hultzen in 2011 – before Highfill came to bat.

Highfill hadn’t beaten in a varsity game since March 4, 2020, but was a .360 hitter in high school. He got the Wolfpack’s first hit, hitting a liner along the right field line before the third, and struck again in the fifth and seventh.

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More coverage of NCAA baseball tournaments: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25

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