The Aurora Houn' Dawgs' record season in 2016 ended with a victory in the third-place game last June, a game in which then-sophomore Wyatt Sparks pitched the Dawgs to a win and picked up three RBI along the way.
Now a junior, Sparks opened the Dawgs' 2017 season in style, striking out 12 of the 17 batters he faced en route to an 11-0 shutout win.
Sparks struck out the first six hitters Clever sent to the plate in the season opener -- a tournament matchup at Clever -- before allowing a single to the seventh-place hitter to begin the third inning. But that was only after Aurora had scored eight runs over the first two innings.
The home team on the scoreboard, the Houn' Dawgs put up the game's first run in the first frame. Sparks led off with a single and advanced to third on a pair of walks before coming home on a fielder's choice to make it 1-0.
Aurora added seven more runs in the second. Senior Zac Shoemaker led off with a single, followed by a single from junior Blake Williams. Both advanced on a wild pitch before a walk was issued to junior Miah Fisher, and Shoemaker was brought home when senior ninth-place hitter Brett Schellen was hit by a pitch.
After a popout, a single by junior Matthew Miller got through the legs of the Clever right fielder, allowing all three Aurora baserunners to score and Miller to advance to third. Miller scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore Gage Singer one batter later.
Senior Kaleb Baker got the rally restarted for Aurora with a walk and scored on the next batter, as senior Preston Naylor hit an infield single to the third baseman, who then committed a throwing error, allowing Baker to score and Naylor to advance to second. An RBI single by Shoemaker brought Naylor in to score before the inning ended on a lineout.
The Houn' Dawgs added two more in the bottom of the third, as Fisher and Schellen reached base on a walk and a hit-by-pitch, respectively. Fisher came around to score on a single by Sparks, and Schellen reached home on a fielder's choice.
Shoemaker scored the final run of the game in the bottom of the fourth. He drew a one-out walk and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on an RBI single by senior pinch-hitter Justis Mooneyham.
Throughout the Houn' Dawgs' productive offensive innings, Sparks continued to dominate on the mound, allowing only two hits and a walk. With the Aurora lead over 10 runs, the game ended after five innings, via the mercy rule.
Miller led the RBI category on the day with three, while also recording a hit and a run. Sparks and Shoemaker scored two runs and drove one in each, adding one and two hits, respectively. Also with RBI were Singer, Baker, Mooneyham and Schellen. Fisher and Schellen also scored two runs each, while Baker, Naylor and Williams reached home once each.
The Dawgs collected their second win of the season on the next night of the Right Off the Bat tournament, scoring a walk-off victory over Walnut Grove via a sacrifice fly from Baker.
Aurora's home opener was originally scheduled for Monday, but due to a conflict was rescheduled for next Thursday. The Dawgs will face Springfield Catholic in a 5 p.m. game.