The way Mississippi State is playing, it’s unlikely the Bulldogs are going to be intimidated by anyone. But if any team in the country has a fear factor on its side, it’s Vanderbilt, State’s opponent tonight in the College World Series. Vandy, the SEC regular season and tournament champion, is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, is ranked No. 1 in one national poll, has won 15 of its last 16 games, has set a school record with 55 victories and, most significantly for tonight, is sending to the mound a touted freshman right-hander who appears to be peaking. Kumar Rocker is an imposing 6 feet 4, 255 pounds and can touch 98 mph with his fastball. He has won his last three starts, beating LSU in the SEC Tournament, Indiana State in the Nashville Regional and Duke in a must-win Super Regional game. That was the 19-strikeout no-hitter you might’ve heard about. Rocker, son of former Auburn and NFL star Tracy Rocker, was one of the top recruits – and pro prospects — in the country last year. He was not an immediate success at Vandy. He got shelled in his college debut and lost his first SEC start. He has had other rough spots, as his 10-5 record and 3.50 ERA would suggest. But the Super Regional no-no generated national fame and certainly raised expectations. As Vandy coach Tim Corbin told the Nashville Tennessean: “I know when you pitch like that one time there’s a certain level of anticipation. But he’ll handle it well.” The Bulldogs are one of the best hitting teams in the country, making for a most intriguing matchup. P.S. Here’s an obscure Mississippi connection in Omaha (as noted by Doug Shanks): Michigan coach Erik Bakich played for the Greenville Bluesmen in the old Texas-Louisiana League. A third baseman, Bakich played nine games for the independent club in 2001 during his brief pro career. His Wolverines are 2-0 in the bracket opposite State’s.
The talent cultivated at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years has blossomed into something special in Atlanta. The surging Braves are 13-3 in June and 43-30 for the season, threatening to break away in the National League East. Former Mississippi Braves have led the way in this remarkable month, during which the big club has averaged 7.8 runs per game. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley – all have had productive months. “We’re so talented from top to bottom and we show up every night,” veteran catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com after Monday’s 12-3 blowout of the New York Mets. “This is a special team.” McCann, the first M-Braves alum to reach the big leagues back in 2005, has provided a boost on and off the field in his return to the ATL after several years away. He is batting .375 with four homers in 10 games this month. Acuna, moved back to the leadoff spot in mid-May, is hitting .378 with six homers and 18 RBIs in June. Albies is at .367 with four homers and 15 RBIs. Freeman: .333, six homers, 20 RBIs. Swanson: .279, three homers, 18 runs. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star called up in May: four homers, 12 RBIs, 16 runs in June alone. Overshadowed has been the pitching of former M-Braves Julio Teheran (2-0, 0.53 ERA this month), Mike Soroka (3-0, 4.21), Sean Newcomb (0.93) and Jacob Webb (3.38). It’s been a fun time for old Braves fans, who can only hope the bloom holds into October.