FAYETTEVILLE – After the Arkansas Razorbacks’ SEC finale on May 10 against Tennessee at Baum Stadium, Joe Serrano and Trey Killian assumed they would just practice but never play on their home field again.
Senior left fielder Serrano’s college career ceases whenever these 2015 Razorbacks play their last game.
Though a junior, it’s anticipated that Killian, a right-handed pitcher out of Mountain Home High School, will get a pro draft offer next week too good to return to Fayetteville.
So with the Razorbacks (38-22) knowing they didn’t rank high enough to be a top-seeded NCAA regional host, Killian and Serrano knew their Baum games were done.
Well, guess what?
Due to a scheduling conflict with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, No. 8 national seed Missouri State (48-10) can’t host this weekend’s Super Regional, despite sweeping through the regional tournament it just hosted at Hammons Field in Springfield.
And back comes Baum Stadium.
With the Stillwater and Springfield regional winners paired in the bracket, Arkansas earned the lucky draw and was awarded the Super Regional bid. The hottest ticket in the state sold out in less than a day.
And back comes Killian and Serrano. It’s an encore neither expected, but certainly appreciate.
“That’s awesome,” Killian said. “It didn’t hit me at first when I was coming out here for my last start (May 8 against Tennessee), but as the weekend went on and the games went on, it definitely got emotional.
“This place has been awfully good to me. All the fans have been good to me. It’s always been emotional for me.”
Killian (2-4, 4.76 ERA) also knows emotion will surge as he tries to set the series tone for Arkansas after being announced the Game 1 starter on Friday. And what a matchup in most likely his final career start at Baum — Missouri State ace Jon Harris (8-1, 1.85 ERA).
“I can’t think of a better way to end my career than pitching a Super Regional in front of hopefully 15,000 Hog fans,” Killian said. “To host in front of a ton of Hog fans, what more can you ask for?”
Serrano super in Stillwater
Serrano hails from Tucson, Ariz., but after four years under head coach Dave Van Horn, and collecting a degree last month in sports management, he calls Fayetteville “home.”
“The city of Fayetteville and the Razorbacks have treated me really well,” Serrano said. “The experience I have had here the last four years will hold a special place in my heart forever.”
Unlike Killian — and especially 21-year-old, draft-eligible center fielder Andrew Benintendi, the SEC Player of the Year — there are no guarantees that Serrano gets a call during next week’s draft.
“I am not really too concerned about the draft,” said Serrano, who was selected in the 12th round by the Cincinnati Reds coming out of high school. “I am just going to let the chips fall where they may and try to give the team everything that I have.
“I am just really excited to be a part of a team that gets to go to a Super Regional and hopefully I can shed a little bit of experience on the younger guys and help us get through the regional.”
Serrano has intangibly helped the Razorbacks throughout the season, but no more importantly than his RBI groundout in the ninth inning that pushed Arkansas past St. John’s, 4-3, for the Stillwater Region championship.
Serrano, named the tournament MVP, battled .500 (6 for 12) during the Razorbacks’ three wins in Stillwater.
“It was good to be named MVP, but overall, it really isn’t a goal that I set for myself when I went there,” Serrano said. “The goal is to win the regional and get to supers. Now the goal is not to be the best player in the Super Regional — it’s to win 2 out of 3 and go to Omaha.”
Killian knows about Bears
Missouri State looms a big obstacle between Fayetteville and Omaha.
Related Story: Is this best Missouri St. team ever?
The Hogs know that firsthand. The Missouri Valley Conference champion Bears edged Arkansas, 2-0, in a nonconference game back on March 31 at Baum.
As a SEC weekend pitcher, Killian just watched that midweek game.
“We do know Missouri State is a solid team, obviously,” Killian said. “They are in a Super Regional and they were a national seed. We know they can pitch. We know they can throw strikes and we know they can swing the bat a little bit. It should be a fun weekend.”
Serrano went 0 for 4 against the Bears.
“Missouri State is a good squad,” Serrano said. “They are really, really talented.”
And Arkansas’ players and fans are really, really pumped. A super regional sellout was announced the day after tickets went on sale.
“To have it sold out in an hour, it seemed like, that just really meant a lot,” Serrano said.
NCAA Super Regional
Arkansas vs. Missouri State
• What: Best-of-three series
• When: Friday, 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m.; Sunday (if necessary), 2 p.m.
• Where: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
• Records: No. 8 national seed Missouri State 48-10; Arkansas 38-22
• TV/Radio: ESPN2; ESPN Arkansas, 104.3 FM
• At Stake: Winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., June 13-24
The expected pitching matchups this weekend (Arkansas listed first):
• Friday: RHP Trey Killian (2-4, 4.76) vs. RHP Jon Harris (8-1, 1.85)
• Saturday: RHP Keaton McKinney (6-1, 3.21) vs. LHP Matt Hall (11-2, 2.17)
• Sunday: RHP Jackson Lowery (7-1, 3.22) vs. LHP Jordan Knutson (6-1, 3.06)