Backs to the wall, down to their last strike, the Vandy Boys caught lightning in a bottle on Wednesday evening. Walk, infield hit, error, single and wild pitch turned defeat (and elimination) into victory (and hope). It could set up a weekend to define a couple of legacies.

All season, Vandy has been led by its inimitable aces, Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Both are expected to be drafted within the top 10 picks of next month’s MLB Draft; Leiter is in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick. Each has bookended moments of being absolutely unhittable with moments of near-humanness. Monday’s Leiter start against NC State showed both. He struck out 15 in 8 innings, throwing one bad pitch that the Wolfpack sent over the wall, spelling the 1-0 loss. The second-year phenom would love to serve up some revenge Saturday night.

But first, Rocker has to win Friday. He was ho-hum in Saturday’s opening win over Arizona, but in his 3 NCAA Tournament starts, the 6-5 junior has thrown 18 1/3 innings, allowing 10 hits and 3 earned runs, with 27 strikeouts as the bargain. NC State coach Elliot Avent admitted, “I don’t think you wake up in the morning saying, ‘Oh boy we’re going to face Kumar Rocker.’ I don’t think anybody says that. If they do, they are fooling themselves.”

For Rocker, the CWS stage is hardly new. He was named Most Outstanding Player in the 2019 event, after all. Just before that getting to Omaha, his 19 strikeout, no-hit performance against Duke in the Super Regional marked his emergence as perhaps the brightest pitching star in the sport. His 2021 season has merely provided the exclamation point to the argument that he has been one of the most dominant pitchers in SEC history.

Can Vandy scratch out another must-win victory? Will it take another historic effort from Rocker? Could Rocker help push Vandy into the best-of-3 finals and become the first player to win MOP twice? It’s all possible at this point.

“If you haven’t noticed, our last couple of games are 1-run ballgames, 2-run ballgames,” Vandy reliever Luke Murphy told the media. “We’ll keep putting up the fight and I think we’ll have a good chance to keep advancing.”

Vandy fans can be forgiven for looking ahead to Saturday, should Rocker lead them to a Friday win. Leiter was absolutely dominant against NC State on Monday, allowing just 4 hits, but surrendering the 5th-inning solo homer than was the difference as NC State ace Sam Highfill held the Dores to a pair of hits. But Leiter also threw 123 pitches, just 1 shy of his season-high.

Would he be ready for Saturday? If he could go, how long could he go? While Vandy coach Tim Corbin isn’t about to either tip his hand or admit to looking ahead to Saturday, there’s reason to think Leiter could be fine. Monday’s game was the 8th time this season that Leiter has reached 100 pitches in a start, and the 4th of reaching 110 pitches.

Still, there’s no question that the potential Friday and Saturday games are asking plenty from Vandy’s two big arms. Given the performance of the Vandy offense in their first matchup with NC State, Corbin might be asking more from his hitters than the pitchers.

“We might not be the most talented team, but the thing that you can’t deny the kids is they are tough,” Corbin said after Wednesday’s victory. “And every time you challenge them, they come back. And I appreciate that. I appreciate they’re fighters.”

Vandy’s fighting spirit was shown by a group of patient, selective, and ultimately devastating hitters in the 9th inning against Stanford on Wednesday. On Friday and potentially Saturday, it could well be fighting time for Rocker and Leiter. And maybe Vandy has NC State right where they want them.