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June 19, 2007
OMAHA, Neb. - There have been many constants at the College World Series, and before Tuesday, the Louisville offense was one of them. After bruising opposing pitchers in their last two games, the Cardinals' date with destiny came to an end.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox can thank sophomore Luke Putkonen for that.
Putkonen was masterful Tuesday afternoon, as the Tar Heels finally received a strong performance from a starting pitcher.
It was the first time since the first game of the Chapel Hill Regional against Jacksonville that the Tar Heels received a strong start.
It couldn't have come at a better time, as the Tar Heels defeated Louisville 3-1.
"I thought our pitching was terrific starting with Luke," Fox said. "The name of the game is pitching and defense and we did a great job of both this afternoon."
Putkonen (8-1) allowed a run on three hits in seven innings of work. He also struck out seven and walked one. More importantly, he limited the nation's hottest offense to minimal offensive production.
"I thought Luke was hitting his spots with the fastball and burying his curveball," North Carolina catcher Tim Federowicz said. "He was very confident out there and was able to record a few strikeouts."
Louisville second baseman Logan Johnson also complimented Putkonen.
"They did a great job of mixing up their pitches today," he said. "They also expanded the zone and it made it tough for the team as a whole to get in a rhythm."
While Putkonen's impressive start propelled the Tar Heels to a win over the Cardinals, it also opened the door to using more pitchers against Rice in the coming days.
Putkonen threw seven innings. Meanwhile, closer Andrew Carignan threw 1 1/3 innings to earn his 17th save of the season.
The lengthy start gives the Tar Heels the ability to throw veteran right-hander Robert Woodard as a starter. It also makes Rob Wooten, Matt Danford, Adam Warren and others available for a potential two games with the Owls. Carignan will also be in the mix.
"It was important that we didn't have to use many relievers today," Fox said. "We'll see how our situation holds up tomorrow and go from there."
With the Tar Heels in great shape on the mound, the focus now shifts to the offense, which was less than impressive against the Cardinals.
"We did a good job of preventing the big inning today, but we've got to get better offensively," Fox said. "We're just glad to stay alive at this point."
Magical run ends for Louisville
When first-year coach Dan McDonnell went from an assistant at Ole Miss to the head coach at Louisville, he didn't know what to expect at first.
After arriving in the Bluegrass State and meeting his players, McDonnell quickly realized that he had inherited a program with talent and confidence.
He didn't know they'd be an Omaha contender.
"When I took the job, I thought our team was talented," McDonnell said. "I became even more encouraged when our guys worked hard during the physical tests. Our seniors led by example throughout the season."
Two seniors - second baseman Logan Johnson and shortstop Chris Cates - led the charge after Christmas break.
"The team didn't question what we did as coaches and after not passing our physical tests, Johnson and Cates were two guys that rose to the occasion," McDonnell said. "Those guys came out at 6 a.m. each day and led by example."
Though his season is over, Johnson is one of several players that could earn All-CWS honors. The veteran finished the afternoon with a home run.
Despite the offensive success of many throughout the tournament, Tuesday's loss to the Tar Heels is a tough pill to swallow for the Cardinals.
"I told the players after the game that you don't prepare for a season ending speech when you're as hot as we were," McDonnell said. "But what a great season we had. This will go down as the greatest team in Louisville history. It put our program on the map."
Cates echoed McDonnell's sentiments.
"I have mixed emotions right now," he said. "I don't want the season to end, but I'm glad we made it here. It was a great season."
That it was and it sets the stage for an even better Louisville program.