Serrano: Hogs on Up Swing

Arkansas is surging, but two days off doesn't mean the Hogs wanted to be away from baseball. Coaches recruited, but players headed for the ball fields.

What do you do with two days off if you are an Arkansas baseball player coming off a big series triumph at No. 1 Texas A&M? Andrew Benintendi went to Baum Stadium to maintain the form that made him national player of the week. Joe Serrano hit fungos for 11-year-olds.

Serrano had some motivation. The senior outfielder is finishing up an internship that's among the last items so he can graduate in a couple of weeks.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn wasn't surprised by any of that, but knew his players were appreciative of some free time after playing a game about every day for the last month of the college baseball season.

More than anything, Van Horn and his staff needed some time away from Baum Stadium on Monday and Tuesday to do a little recruiting.

"The entire staff went recruiting," Van Horn said. "When I told them Sunday night that they had Monday and Tuesday off, I knew they appreciated it. I also knew that a lot of the guys were going to be up here working on things. So I'm not surprised at all."

Serrano is a recreation and sports management major. The senior from Tuscon, Ariz., was the hit of practice when he arrived at the workouts for the Express 10-11 travel team in Rogers. It's been like that everywhere the Hogs have gone after rallying for a 9-8 victory in a suspended game and then pounding the Aggies for the series win on Sunday night, 8-2. Serrano had big hits in both games.

There was a three-run triple to highlight the rally in the first victory, helping the Hogs recover from an 8-4 deficit. Then, Serrano got the Hogs started in the third game with an RBI double, then scored after a two-hour storm delay in what would become a six-run first inning.

So what was it like in the post-game celebration? The trip home?

"We went crazy in the bus to the airport," Serrano said. "There was a chant that we really weren't going to do unless we swept a team. But we did it anyway. We sang it. I can't tell you exactly, but it's from a movie and it's about saying we just conquered you."

The Razorbacks agree that they won't use it again unless they do get their first SEC sweep. They have won their last four SEC series. They play host to Mississippi State beginning Friday. Clearly, the Hogs have thought about what some sweeps would do to their post-season chances to play host to a regional, something that's unlikely now as the nation's No. 25 team.

"Hypothetically, we could still host a regional," Serrano said. "Say we swept two of the last four and then won the other two series. Where would that put us? I think we could still host."

After hosting State, the Hogs travel to Alabama, host Tennessee and play at Georgia. Those four teams are all below the surging Hogs in the SEC standings. Game time Friday night is 6:35 p.m. Starting time Saturday is 6:05. Sunday's finale will be at 1:05.

Van Horn knows it won't be easy. It's not like the Hogs (24-17, 9-9) have a big margin for error.

"Those teams are just like us, not much different, and they are looking at us and thinking, 'We can do that, too,' and make a run like we have the last month," Van Horn said. "I think our players know it's not going to be easy. I do worry about being on too much of a high and I've talked to them about that. But it's not like I'm so worried I can't sleep."

Serrano said sleep came tough because of the excitement on Sunday night.

"It was crazy," he said. "I was getting text messages from people I haven't heard from since high school. I think everyone was. My phone was going crazy. Our team was going absolutely crazy."

Serrano's triple was the first since another big three bagger his freshman year at a Super Regional at Baylor. He'll always remember both.

"I'd say my personal highlight has to be the one Sunday at A&M," he said. "But the one at Baylor was big, too. That Baylor series (to go to the College World Series) was pretty big. But this seems bigger right now. To win that doubleheader at A&M is my highlight right now. It's pretty big for sure.

"I am sure that no one gave us a chance. We just came out Sunday just swinging the bat freely. And after we got the first one, we knew the second one was just there for us to take. It was big-time huge. But I will always remember taking that series at Baylor. There were a lot of close calls, close plays all the way through it."

Serrano is having a blast.

"This is definitely an up time right now," he said. "There have been ups and downs all four years, but it's up now. I'd say overall, it's been a long and arduous time. But a lot of fun. I've gotten a lot of life experiences and it's all helped me mature. I'm blessed to have come here."

Serrano is hitting in front of the nation's hottest player and it's given everyone in the lineup a boost. Serrano knows that Benintendi has helped him get a few more good pitches and he's not wasting any.

"My attitude right now, I think I'm getting fast balls early and I'm not going to take them," he said. "There was a point where I was trying to see as many pitches in an at bat as possible. I had the attitude that if I saw five pitches in each at bat and had four at bats, that was 20 pitches. That might be enough to get the starter out of the game.

"Right now, I'm seeing a few more good pitches behind Beni and I want to take advantage of that. And, I'm swinging at better pitches right now."

Not now.

"I am not going to swing at bad pitches," he said. "But if it's a mistake breaker first, then I'm going to hit it. And if it's a fast ball down the middle, I'm going to go after it. The attitude I have now, don't let a good pitch go. I'm not taking. I changed my approach.

"I'm definitely hitting at my best right now. The new ball helps. And, being with a good group helps. We all can't wait until our next game. We want to see what we can do next after taking two from the Aggies."

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