Jack Leiter Dominates In No-Hitter Against South Carolina
It was going to take something pretty special for Jack Leiter to be any better than Kumar Rocker was on Friday night against South Carolina. After all, holding a lineup as good as the Gamecocks’ to two runs on three hits with 14 strikeouts over eight innings, as Rocker did, is an extremely high bar to clear.
But then again, special is exactly the right word to describe what Leiter did against the No. 12 team in the country on Saturday afternoon.
After walking the first batter he saw, Braylen Wimmer, on a full-count pitch, the righthander retired the next 27 batters in order, striking out 16 of them, on the way to a 5-0 win for the No. 3 Commodores. It comes in his first SEC start, and not against just any SEC team, but one with an experienced lineup that can really clobber the baseball.
“He did it against a very good, older, good-hitting offensive team,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “That team, they’re not easy to navigate through, any of those hitters. Those are big, strong kids that can hit fastballs.”
The fact that South Carolina can punish fastballs makes the feat more impressive still, as Leiter really dominated with his fastball all day long. It was up to 97 mph, even looking harder than that at times. That’s how little success South Carolina had in timing the offering up and doing anything with it.
There also wasn’t a ton of let-up in the stuff. After touching 97 early on, he settled in the mid-to-low 90s in the middle innings, before pushing for more as he worked to finish.
He touched 97 again as late as the eighth inning, when he ended the frame by getting Brennan Milone looking for a strikeout. And he punctuated the no-hitter by getting Wimmer swinging on a 96 mph heater to end the game on pitch 124 of the day. The chase of trying to finish the game really helped him push through the finish line, but so did the fact that he was getting more comfortable as time went on.
“I think there was a little bit of that, the adrenaline and kind of pushing through, but again, I hadn’t gone that far, I probably haven’t thrown that many pitches in my whole life,” Leiter said. “So having not experienced that, it kind of got easier as things went on in a way, I guess because I had such a good feel for the mound, because I had been throwing on it for a while now, and everything just kind of felt normal mechanically.”
It was about the time Leiter started to ramp back up that Corbin knew there was a chance for something special, because to that point, there was more uncertainty if he would have enough in the tank to get there, as racking up a bunch of strikeouts is not exactly a textbook way to be able to finish a game.
“Strikeouts are expensive,” Corbin said. “They’re like dog years on a pitch count, so you get into that situation where you wonder if you just hold on to (winning) the game, number one, and then when you get into the seventh, I thought ‘yeah, you know, he might be able to get into the eighth.’ When he got into the eighth, then it was a situation where we gave him a little bit of cushion. I thought his adrenaline was moving in the right direction, he was attacking the zone, which he needed to to stay in the game.”
There are comparisons to be made between this no-hitter and the last Vanderbilt no-hitter, which was thrown by Rocker against Duke in the 2019 Nashville Super Regional.
The stakes were bigger in Rocker’s game, no doubt, but you’ll recall that Rocker was dominant with his breaking ball in that game against the Blue Devils in a way similar to what we saw with Leiter’s fastball on Saturday. In both cases, the opposition was ready for it and simply couldn’t do anything about it.
That no-hitter against Duke was also something of a coming out party for Rocker as a national sports figure beyond college baseball fans and the most ardent of MLB draft observers. He went from being someone people might have known as simply a highly-routed recruit who ended up in college baseball, if they knew the name at all, to being a name that fans of MLB teams across the country were salivating over as a potential draftee.
Leiter’s name might be more known to the average sports fan than Rocker’s was in 2019 thanks to being the son of former big leaguer Al Leiter, but he’s still been mostly known as Rocker’s running mate in the rotation and a name to watch for those who pay lots of attention to the draft. But now? He’s got a dominant performance of his own that fans will watch and rewatch ad nauseum between now and July, hoping the righthander somehow falls to their team.
From a team perspective, Vanderbilt is truly sitting pretty with this kind of one-two punch at the front of the rotation. Rocker and Leiter came into this season as the top two college prospects in the country, but right now, they very well might also be the two best pitchers in the country.
On the season, the pair has combined for 60 innings. They have allowed a total of 18 hits and five runs with 21 walks and 97 strikeouts. College baseball is set up as a sport where winning two out of every three games is the simplest path to success, and no one in the sport is built to do that better than this particular Vanderbilt team, which at this point has to be considered an auto-favorite in every series based on the duo alone.