FAYETTEVILLE – Joe Serrano thought he had played his last career game in Baum Stadium.
The Arkansas outfielder made the most of his surprising return home on Friday, finishing 3 for 4 and blasting a three-run home run as the Razorbacks opened their NCAA Super Regional with a surprising 18-4 rout over Missouri State.
Boxscore: Arkansas 18, Missouri State 4
Arkansas (39-22) was the visiting team against the No. 8 national seed Bears (48-11), but Fayetteville served as the host site because the Double-A Springfield Cardinals were already scheduled to play this weekend in Missouri State’s home, Hammons Field.
That was just fine with Serrano, the senior who put the Razorbacks up 10-1 in the sixth with his home run and finished with four RBIs.
“It was, honestly, just a relief to know that I could come back here and play one more time,” Serrano said. “… I wasn’t trying to do anything special; I was just trying to compete and get good at-bats so we could win the ballgame.”
Serrano delivered the knockout punch, but it was Andrew Benintendi who sparked the six-run sixth inning with a solo home run off Missouri State ace Jon Harris (8-2). Benintendi, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, tied for the national lead with the home run — his 19th of the season.
The win puts Arkansas one win away from its first College World Series appearance since 2012 in the best-of-three series, with the second game set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
“I feel good that we won the first game, but we haven’t won anything yet,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We won one game; big deal.”
The runs are the third most in an NCAA Tournament game for Arkansas, which scored 20 against Eastern Kentucky in 1985 and 19 against Grambling State in 2010.
Eight of them came against Harris, a top prospect in next week’s Major League Baseball draft who came into the game with a 1.85 ERA. The right-hander was perfect through the first three innings against the Razorbacks before being pulled after 52/3 — allowing nine hits and struggling mightily the second time through Arkansas’ lineup.
“I didn’t miss a barrel,” Harris said. “… No matter if we’re in Baum Stadium, Hammons Field or a neutral site, we’ve still got to come out and play ball. They came out swinging, and we couldn’t put two hits together and bring guys in, and it cost us.”
Missouri State entered Friday on a 19-game winning streak, and it defeated Arkansas 2-0 on March 31 in Fayetteville.
Those winning ways came to a sudden and crashing halt in front of a Baum Stadium record crowd of 11,869, many of whom were lined up more than two hours before the first pitch to cheer on a Razorbacks team that started the season 11-12 before turning things around.
Jake Burger finished 4 for 4 for the Bears, including a home run to put Missouri State up 1-0 in the second inning, but his performance was one of the few bright spots, as Arkansas’ Trey Killian (3-4) earned the win. The Mountain Home High grad worked six full innings, allowing eight hits and three runs with one walk and one strikeout.
“I think he started pitching backwards, getting our guys off balance. I thought we were having great at-bats and were hitting it hard,” Burger said of Killian. “We had a couple of balls that were hit to dead center. They were hit hard, but that’s the deepest part of the park. You have to give credit to Arkansas, who just poured it on.”
“We knew (the winning streak) was going to come to an end at some point,” Burger added. “… It didn’t really matter that we lost the streak of 19 games. We’ve just got to come out tomorrow and bounce back.”
• Arkansas is one win away from making its eighth College World Series appearance.
• The Razorbacks are playing in its sixth Super Regional in program history and second at Baum Stadium.
• Arkansas is 8-5 all-time in Super Regional games and 3-0 at Baum Stadium.
• The Razorbacks improve to 4-2 all-time in the first game of Super Regionals.
• The last two times Arkansas won the first game of a Super Regional it went on to sweep the series (2004, 2009).
• The Razorbacks are now 70-58 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and has won 16 tournament games in the past four years.
• Arkansas has won 11 of its past 12 against Missouri State and are 50-21 overall against the Bears.
• The Razorbacks have won 24 of their past 31 games.
• Arkansas’ 18 runs is the third highest in a NCAA Tournament game in program history and is the most in a NCAA Tournament game since defeating Grambling 19-7 in the 2010 Fayetteville Regional.
• The Razorbacks scored in five consecutive innings for the first time since scoring in six straight innings on April 15 against Stephen F. Austin.
• Arkansas snaps Missouri State’s program record and nation-leading 19-game winning streak.
• Michael Bernal extended his hitting streak to a career-long 14 games.
• Andrew Benintendi hit his 19th home run of the year to tie for the national lead.
• Trey Killian posted his team-leading seventh quality start of the year.
• Joe Serrano went 3-for-4 at the plate with a home run and four RBI and is hitting .563 (9-for-16) in four NCAA Tournament games.
• Clark Eagan drove in a career-high four runs.
• Tucker Pennell had the first multi-hit game of his career.
• Twelve Razorbacks collected a hit and nine players drove in at least one run.
• Arkansas hit multiple home runs for the 15th time this season.
• The Razorbacks turned three double plays and have now recorded 62 on the season.
260—18 18 2
001—4 10 1
Killian, Teague (7), Phillips (8), Stone (9) and Pennell and Gosser (7); Harris, Merciez (6), Knight (7), Brown (8), Archer (8) and Castro. W — Killian (3-4). L — Harris (8-2).
NCAA Super Regional
Arkansas vs. Missouri State
• Where: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
• Game 1: Arkansas 18, MSU 4
• Schedule: Saturday, 1 p.m.; Sunday (if necessary), 2 p.m.
• Records: No. 8 national seed Missouri State 48-11; Arkansas 39-22
• TV/Radio: Saturday ESPN2, Sunday ESPN2 or ESPNU; ESPN Arkansas, 104.3 FM
• At Stake: Winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., June 13-24