OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — South Carolina returned just three everyday players to its lineup this season, yet the Gamecocks are here again — back in the College World Series finals.
Tyler Webb and Matt Price combined for seven innings of shutout relief, and the two-time defending national champions defeated Arkansas 3-2 to win their bracket Friday night.
They took the lead in the bottom of the seventh on Barrett Astin's two-out, bases-loaded walk to Adam Matthews. Then Price closed out the game for his CWS-record fifth career win in Omaha.
South Carolina (49-18) will open the best-of-three finals against Arizona on Sunday. The Gamecocks are trying to become the first team to win three titles in a row since Southern California strung together five straight from 1970-74.
"It's kind of hard to explain, because there are so many good baseball teams that we play throughout the year. Very rarely do we think that we're so much better than the other team," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said.
"Our guys have great perspective. They respect the game. They respect their opponents. And we play in a conference that if you feel like you're one of the best seven or eight teams, you feel like you're pretty good."
South Carolina returned only Evan Marzilli, Christian Walker and Matthews as regular position players from last year's championship team. The Gamecocks went through some rough patches in Southeastern Conference play before they started revving up for the postseason.
In Omaha, they had to play SEC rival Arkansas (46-22) three times in five nights to make it back to the championship round.
Arkansas had ended the Gamecocks' record 22-game win streak in the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 victory on Monday. The Gamecocks forced a second bracket championship game with their 2-0 win on Thursday.
As expected, Friday's rematch came down to pitching.
"Obviously that game could have gone either way," Tanner said. "That was one of those typical SEC battles on this stage. And both teams had opportunities to win. We just felt like for us to have a chance to win, we had to get nine innings out of (Colby) Holmes, Webb and Price, two or three apiece, and it kind of worked out that way. We felt we had to hold them to three, four runs max to have a chance to win. And it just kind of happened exactly like that."
Price (5-4), who gave up one hit and struck out five, pitched three innings for his record-setting win.
"Speechless. I know how many great pitchers have been through the College World Series," Price said. "And even though I've been coming out of the bullpen, probably vulturing some wins I guess you would say, but just giving our team a chance to win is what matters to me most."
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