"This game is crazy," said Mike Fox, who has led the Tar Heels (55-14) to 109 wins over the last two seasons. "You can go from scoring a lot of runs to none. It is all controlled by the guy on the mound. Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week. Today was a good example of that."
The Cards (47-24) had crossed the plate 22 times in their previous two games.
"It was a tough day on the hitters," UL coach Dan McDonnell said. "We had a couple of balls hit hard but they just weren't going out for us. I credit UNC for getting it done today."
Prying words from Putkonen is only slightly easier than trying to hit the 6-foot-6 third-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers. His long, slow delivery and his movement on the inside and outside of the plate baffled the Cardinals' torrid hitting machine to the tune of a measly three hits over seven innings.
The quiet sophomore right-hander from Marietta, Ga., matched a career-high with seven strikeouts in what was his longest outing of the season.
UNC's starters had allowed 10 runs in three innings over its first two games in Omaha, so his contribution couldn't have come at a better time.
Now the Tar Heels can throw their senior ace Robert Woodard against the Owls (56-12) – 14-4 winners over UNC on Sunday.
Carolina must defeat Rice twice in two days in order to advance to the championship series this weekend, and keeping Woodard – and Adam Warren, for that matter – sidelined during this game should help its cause.
"That's important," Fox said. "I'm happy that Robert is going to get another chance to pitch tomorrow."
Putkonen (8-1) made just one mistake that ended in a first-inning home run by Cardinal slugger Logan Johnson – his fourth of the CWS.
"It was an alright pitch, but it could have been better," Putkonen said of Johnson's homer. "I just had to put it behind me and keep on going."
"My team scored me some runs, and I just wanted to go out and get three quick outs and let our team hit."
But the Tar Heels quickly regained the lead with three runs in the top of the second. After a two-out Seth Williams single down the right field line scored Tim Fedroff to tie the score, a pair of hit batters set the table for what would be the decisive UNC rally.
Garrett Gore ripped a sharp grounder to Cards' third baseman Chris Dominguez, who then threw the ball into right field, enabling Williams and Kyle Seager to score the winning runs.
All-America Andrew Carignan struck out three of the four batters he faced to pick up his 17th save of the season, which is just one shy of tying the school record.
"I take a lot of pride in inheriting runners," Carignan said. "There were two runners on, and I wanted to come in and clean it up."
Carolina's three hits were a season-low.