The Commodores (48-16) forced a second Bracket 1 final on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the best-of-three final from Monday.
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 but one of the 13 have played.
Coach Elliott Avent said he discovered there was a problem 45 minutes to an hour before the game. He told ESPN in an in-game interview that players who weren’t on the squad were being tested on Friday afternoon and, if the results were negative, some or all would have a chance to 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.
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 appearances, faced Rocker and was called upon to replace scheduled starter Matt Willadsen.
The Wolfpack were competitive until the end against the nation’s No.4 seed. The game ended when Luke Murphy, who got his ninth save, knocked out Devonte Brown with two runners on base. .
NC State had eight hits to six for Vandy, and the bottom of the order fell to 4 for 14. Sam Highfill, the starting pitcher in a 1-0 win over Vandy on Monday, made no mistakes. as a substitute first baseman and went 3v4.
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.
The Wolfpack left two runners on base in three more innings and failed a total of 12.
The Commodores’ offense was slow to kick in in Omaha, and they were clear against Payne until they scored twice in the fourth. CJ Rodriguez picked Dominic Keegan and he came home to wild ground full of basics.
Payne left to applause from fans and the handful of players and staff in his dugout after giving a walk to start the sixth. He limited Vandy to two hits in an 87-pitched outing that was his longest of the season.
Dalton Feeney relieved and ditched Parker Noland’s RBI single, but solved issues in the seventh when Vandy had runners in the corners.
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.