OMAHA, NEB. >> JC Cloney gave Arizona yet another strong start in the College World Series, and he did it after his worst outing of the year.
The junior left-hander pitched seven strong innings to lead Arizona to a 3-0 victory over UC Santa Barbara in an elimination game Wednesday night, sending the Wildcats to the Bracket 1 final.
"I don't think we've had a performance that good all year, the one he gave us tonight," coach Jay Johnson said. "Character off the charts. His last outing was a little bumpy. He's only had two bumpy ones this year. Both times, he responded in a Hall of Fame manner."
Cloney, who allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in regionals, was more like his usual self against the Gauchos. He allowed just five singles and became the eighth straight Arizona starter to go at least seven innings at TD Ameritrade Park since the 2012 national championship season.
"I don't know about being more motivated than usual," Cloney said. "Coach Johnson has talked about (these) Super Bowls all year and to give my best effort. I moved past Lafayette the day after."
Jared Oliva homered for the first time since April 4 for the Wildcats (46-22) and has driven in four of his team's eight runs in Omaha.
"The past month, I've become more developed as a hitter, and I try to stay relaxed and don't do too much," Oliva said. "I stick to my game plan, and whatever happens happens. I got a good pitch to hit and got a good swing on it."
The Gauchos (43-20-1), who went 1-2 in their first CWS appearance, threatened in the ninth against Cameron Ming after Clay Fisher doubled and Devon Gradford walked with no outs. Ming struck out Austin Bush, JJ Muno and Dempsey Grover to end the game.
Santa Barbara senior left-hander Justin Kelly (2-1) allowed seven hits in three-plus innings. Arizona scored its first run on a sacrifice fly, and Oliva followed with his fourth homer of the season, and first since April 4, to make it 3-0.
Trevor Bettencourt settled things down for the Gauchos after Kyle Lewis singled leading off the fourth against Kelly. Bettencourt retired 13 in a row — striking out a career-high seven— before Bobby Dalbec singled in the eighth.
"You watch the College World Series when you're a little kid and you're not sure how you'll feel when you're out there," Bettencourt said. "After the warmup pitches, I was going to take a deep breath and look around the stadium and embrace it. I couldn't help but smile. It was intense, but I looked around and felt lucky to be here."
Santa Barbara was shut out twice and batted .202 in three CWS games. So ended an excited postseason run highlighted by freshman Sam Cohen's walk-off pinch grand slam to beat No. 2 national seed Louisville in the super regionals.
"When people go home, they get emotional, and I promised myself I wouldn't, but for these kids to get us here, to get this opportunity for our program, is unique," coach Andrew Checketts said. "I hate using the term 'overachieved.' I think they achieved as a group and ended up being a real good baseball team."
ARIZONA LIMITS RUNS
Arizona is the fourth team in CWS history, and first since Arizona State in 1972, to allow two or fewer runs in its first three games. The Wildcats are 24-1 this season when holding opponents to two runs or less.
GAUCHOS IN A PINCH
Santa Barbara's pinch hitters went 4 for 7 in the NCAA tournament, and they were 3 for 4 in the CWS. Over their final four national tournament games, UCSB pinch hitters accounted for six RBIs. The rest of the team drove in three.
Arizona plays Oklahoma State on Friday in the Bracket 1 final. The Wildcats need to win that game and another Saturday against the Cowboys to reach next week's best-of-three finals. UC Santa Barbara's season is over.