As the Houn' Dawg field players made their way out to take the field one last time in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday, Coach James Hoffman warned his bench players not to make too big of a fuss after the final out.
"This is business," Hoffman told them.
And in the end, it was business as usual for Hoffman's team, as they downed Big 8 Conference rival Monett 5-0 to advance to the quarterfinal round of the Class 4 state playoffs.
There was some celebration -- it would be nearly impossible not to celebrate such a big win in front of the home fans -- but there were no "Dawg piles," no showmanship. Just shouts of joy and hugs all around as the state's second-ranked team showed why they have been a favorite all season to get back to O'Fallon.
To take the next step forward, the Dawgs had to go through a familiar but tough opponent in Monett, which came into the game ranked just behind Aurora as the number three team in the state. In the end, though, as has been the case all season, Aurora dominated the game from the pitching mound.
Senior left-hander Zac Shoemaker did not allow a baserunner through three and two-thirds innings, finally giving up a walk followed by a base hit in the bottom of the fourth (Monett was the home team after a coin toss, despite Aurora hosting the game). Shoemaker allowed just five runners over seven scoreless innings to earn his 12th win of the season.
Unlike in the Houn' Dawgs' district championship win, the offense hit its stride early in the sectional game, as sophomore Gage Singer led off the top of the second with a triple over the head of the Monett right fielder. He would score on the next play as senior Preston Naylor knocked an RBI double to left.
After a sacrifice bunt by Shoemaker, an RBI single by freshman Ryan Cline scored the second run for the Houn' Dawgs.
The 2-0 lead was more than enough with Shoemaker on the hill, but Aurora wasn't finished. With two outs in the top of the fifth, senior Kaleb Baker gave the Dawgs some extra insurance with a solo home run. And with a runner on and two outs in the seventh, junior Matthew Miller blasted his fourth home run of the season to put an exclamation point on the game.
Miller's two RBI and one run on one hit led the offense, while Singer added two hits and a run. On the mound, Shoemaker mowed down the Monett batters for 13 strikeouts over seven innings, allowing just one walk and four hits.
The win pitted the Houn' Dawgs against Helias Catholic at Jefferson City on Thursday. In last year's quarterfinal matchup against the Crusaders, the Houn' Dawgs recorded a 9-4 victory to advance to the Final Four. Look for details of the game in next week's sports section.