It was a nearly flawless pitching performance for Michigan sophomore Zach Putnam, an outing that Michigan coach Rich Maloney called “one for the ages”.

Scott Bell
Sophomore pitcher Zach Putnam was one out from pitching a no-hitter yesterday. (AP PHOTO)

Eight strikeouts. Six 1-2-3 innings. 16 groundball outs.

But in the end, it was the career-low one hit he allowed that counted.

Putnam had a no-hitter through eight innings before an Oregon State ninth-inning, two-out RBI single broke a scoreless tie. The Wolverines couldn’t match the run in the bottom of the inning and fell 1-0 in the first game of the Corvallis Super Regional.

With the heartbreaking loss, Michigan’s season and College World Series hopes could end in tonight’s 7 p.m. game against the defending national champions.

“All we had to do was score two runs – which we do 95 percent of the time – and that game was ours,” Maloney said after his team was shut out for the first time this year. “It was just unfortunate because Zach pitched the game of his life. That game was as good a game as you’ll ever see in Michigan college baseball.”

In the top of the ninth inning, Putnam walked Oregon State rightfielder Scott Santschi on a full count. A sacrifice bunt moved the pinch-runner to second, marking the first time in the game a Beaver runner advanced past first base. After Putnam’s eighth strikeout of the game, Oregon State second baseman Joey Wong hit a breaking ball to shallow leftfield. Junior leftfielder Derek VanBuskirk threw the ball home as Santschi sprinted for the plate, slid with his right hand outstretched and clumsily rolled on the ground, his legs flailing, to score the only run of the game.

Though Putnam called the hit “upsetting” and the game “bittersweet,” he acknowledged his strong individual performance and said that he felt the pressure of the no-hitter in later innings.

“It’s not like I can sit here and tell you that I didn’t even know it was happening,” Putnam said. “I obviously knew that, going into the ninth inning, I had a no-hitter going. But I wasn’t so much concerned with trying to throw the ball by people. It was more just putting the ball in play or not giving away any freebies. I didn’t want to walk anybody.”

Putnam was countered by the Oregon State pitching staff, which held the Wolverines hitless until a leadoff single by sophomore shortstop Jason Christian in the fourth inning. But after advancing to second on a two-out balk, Christian and the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize on the scoring opportunity. VanBuskirk reached third base with two outs in the fifth, but the inning ended one batter later to leave him stranded.

The Wolverines’ lack of hitting was a departure from their usually explosive offense. Though the Wolverines were making contact with Oregon State’s pitches, almost every Michigan at bat resulted in an easy groundout or fly ball.

Maloney attributed the shutout to the lack of timely hits by the Wolverines, adding that Michigan would likely need to hit one or more home runs to win tomorrow’s game.

“Unfortunately, I thought we would have had another two or three hits if we were playing on a different surface because the (turf) just slowed (balls) down and gobbled them up,” Maloney said. “If some balls get hit in the air, we can get some jacks and I think that’s going to be significant for us. We can’t try to hit home runs, because you can’t go out there trying to hit a homer. You’ll never get it. But I just think we’re going to end up having to do it.”

Tonight, with undefeated pitcher Mike Wilson on the mound, the Wolverines hope that they will rediscover their big bats and tally another strong pitching performance in the must-win game.

“We come off a game like this, and it’s not at all like we got outplayed,” Putnam said. “I think that everybody on our team knows that we are a very, very even match with this other ballclub. As a team, the story of the last couple weeks has been being the underdog and pulling through, and obviously we’re in that same spot right now, so we’re all feeling very comfortable and very confident.”

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