OMAHA, Neb. – Tyler Webb and Matt Price combined for seven innings of shutout relief, and two-time defending national champion South Carolina returned to the College World Series finals with a 3-2 win over Arkansas on Friday night.
The Gamecocks (49-18) took the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning on Barrett Astin's two-out, bases-loaded walk to Adam Matthews.
South Carolina will play Arizona in the best-of-three finals beginning Sunday. The Gamecocks are trying to become the first team to win three titles in a row since Southern California won five straight from 1970-74.
The Gamecocks beat Arkansas twice in three CWS meetings over five days after winning two of three against the Razorbacks during the Southeastern Conference regular season.
Arkansas had ended South Carolina's record 22-game win streak in the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 win on Monday. The Gamecocks forced a second bracket championship game with their 2-0 win on Thursday.
"Obviously that game could have gone either way," Gamecocks coach Ray 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."
As expected, Friday's rematch came down to pitching.
The Gamecocks erased a 2-0 deficit in the fifth, with Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale walking Christian Walker with the bases loaded to force in the tying run. Baxendale had a career-high five walks.
Matthews looked ready to swing on a 3-2 pitch from Astin in the seventh, but he held up as the slider dropped low and Joey Pankake trotted home for the go-ahead run.
The run ended the Arkansas bullpen's streak of 26 scoreless innings and came on the ninth walk issued by the Razorbacks.
"South Carolina did a great job of manufacturing a run there late to win the game or to get the lead to end up being the winning run," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "I just feel bad for our players. They fought hard."
Matthews also had come up with the bases loaded two times earlier in the game. He hit into an inning-ending double play in the first, and he struck out to end the fifth.
Matthews said he felt the pressure as he walked to the plate in the seventh.
"I better do something or I'm never going to be able to live in Columbia again," he said. "I was telling coach Tanner before we came in that I left a small village of those guys on bases. He threw me some good pitches that I watched. And he threw me a good slider there at the end that I held off of and fortunately I walked."
Colby Suggs (7-1) took the loss for Arkansas (46-22).
Webb, who relieved Colby Holmes after the Hogs' first two batters reached in the third, allowed two hits in four innings.
Price (5-4), who gave up one hit and struck out five, pitched three innings to earn his record fifth career win in the CWS.
"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."
Of Price's 48 pitches, 37 were strikes.
Price was spectacular for the second year in a row in the bracket final. Last year he entered a 2-2 game against Virginia and worked 5 2-3 scoreless innings in a 3-2, 13-inning victory.
"I knew it was going to be tight and it didn't surprise me it ended up being a one-run game, and we played so many," Van Horn said. "Hats off to the pitchers. I thought they did a great job. I thought they filled up the zone all night long."