One down, two to go.
Facing elimination, Carolina finally got a solid effort from its starting pitcher, and the offense did just enough to earn a 3-1 victory over Louisville and send the Cardinals packing Tuesday night. The Heels (55-14) must now win two games in two days against Rice to win their bracket and advance to the finals of the College World Series.
Carolina players and fans can breathe easier entering Wednesday’s game knowing that their starting pitching might be back on track. Luke Putkonen (7-0) not only won the game, he did so in convincing fashion, silencing Louisville’s sluggers with a career-high seven strikeouts in seven innings pitched. Putkonen’s strong start more than doubled the production of Carolina’s previous two starting pitchers, who only lasted a combined three innings in games against Rice and Mississippi State.
It was quantity as well as quality for the sophomore right-hander, who allowed just three hits and one run to an explosive Louisville club that entered the game with outputs of 12, 10, and 20 runs in its last three contests, respectively.
In fact, the Cardinals entered the game hitting .402 as a team and hadn’t scored fewer than two runs since a 3-1 loss to Rutgers on May 25.
“Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week,” said Coach Mike Fox ’78. “[Tuesday] was a good example of that.”
Louisville (47-24) lived by the long ball in its three CWS games, hitting a whopping eight homeruns compared to the Tar Heels’ zero. But, they died by it Tuesday, as second baseman Logan Johnson’s solo shot in the first inning was the Cardinals’ only score.
“We ran into a good club, and they pitched well,” said Johnson, whose homer was his Series record-tying fourth in three games. “Things didn’t go our way.”
Runs were at a premium for both sides, partly because of a stiff Omaha wind blowing in from the outfield that turned a few homerun balls into long fly-ball outs. In the sixth inning, Chad Flack crushed a ball to left that easily would have reached the seats on any other day, but the ball was knocked down by the wind, and it landed in Isaiah Howes’ glove.
Carolina got on the board in the second inning when Seth Williams’ two-out RBI single made it a 1-1 game. Then, with runners on the corners, Garrett Gore chopped a ball to Louisville third baseman Chris Dominguez, but the man the Cardinals calls “Ming” made a low throw to first base that bounced over the first baseman’s glove. Williams and Kyle Seager scored on the error and the Heels took a 3-1 lead.
For once, the “heart attack Heels” played from ahead. By holding a 3-1 advantage from the second inning on, the Heels snapped a seven-game streak in which they trailed by at least two runs.
Andrew Carignan earned his 17th save of the season in the win that marked a milestone for the program: 55 wins, the most in UNC baseball history.
But Fox knows that Rice doesn’t care how many wins Carolina carries into the game. On Sunday, the Tar Heels were a 54-win squad, and the Owls still creamed them by a score of 14-4.
“We hope it is a different game than it was the first time,” Fox said of the upcoming meeting. “We’re happy to be playing [Wednesday]. We’ll have to play well.”