A year after finishing third in Class 4 baseball in Missouri, the Aurora Houn’ Dawgs will be back at the Final Four to make another run at the state championship, as the Dawgs defeated Helias Catholic last Thursday to punch their ticket back to O’Fallon.
For the second year in a row, Aurora downed the Jefferson City private school in the quarterfinals to secure a spot in the Final Four. After a 9-4 win at Missouri Southern last season, Coach James Hoffman’s team this time took down the Crusaders on their home turf with an 8-2 victory.
The Houn’ Dawgs wasted no time getting the offense going, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first after pitcher Wyatt Sparks downed the Crusaders in order to start the game.
Sparks led off with a single, advanced to third on a double by Kaleb Baker and scored on another double by Gage Singer. Matthew Miller, who reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on a sacrifice fly by Preston Naylor, and Singer was later driven in on a single by Ryan Cline.
The three-run lead would have been enough for Sparks, who once again pitched lights-out for the Dawgs, but Aurora would continue to add runs throughout the game.
Singer blasted a home run to left field in the bottom of the third to make it 4-0, and a leadoff double by Miah Fisher led to another run via some fourth-inning small ball.
The only Helias runs came in the top of the fifth, as a leadoff single and a couple of errors helped the Crusaders cut the lead to 5-2.
But the Houn’ Dawgs erased those two runs in their own half of the fifth to retain the five-run lead.
A one-out single by Zac Shoemaker started the rally, followed by another single from Cline. After a Helias pitching change, three consecutive walks drove in the two hitters.
Aurora added one more run for good measure in the bottom of the sixth. Singer drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a double by Naylor before scoring on a sacrifice fly from Shoemaker.
With a comfortable 8-2 lead, Austin Erickson came on in relief of Sparks, who threw 100 pitches over six innings of work. Erickson struck out the first batter he faced, walked the second and then struck out the final two batters of the game to secure the Houn’ Dawgs’ place in the last four.
The Houn’ Dawgs were successful up and down the lineup, with all but two batters recording a hit. Singer’s two hits, two RBI and three runs led the day, followed by three hits, one run and one RBI by Shoemaker.
Cline also added two hits, a run and an RBI, while Baker contributed two RBI on one hit and one walk.
On the mound, Sparks finished with 11 strikeouts over six innings, walking one and allowing two runs on three hits.
With the win, the Houn’ Dawgs will once again travel to O’Fallon for the Class 4 Final Four, where their season ended with a third place trophy last season after falling to eventual champion MICDS and defeating Fulton.
This year, the Dawgs (25-3) will have to go through Pleasant Hill (18-9) to advance to the championship. If successful, they will face the winner of Lutheran South (22-8-1) and Westminster Christian Academy (33-1).
Aurora’s semifinal will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, with the championship to follow on Friday at 1:30 p.m. See next week’s sports pages for the results of the Final Four games.
Before the team departed for the tournament on Wednesday, nine players were recognized for Big 8 All-Conference honors. Shoemaker was named Player of the Year, while Hoffman received Coach of the Year Honors.
Joining Shoemaker on the first team list was Sparks -- as a pitcher and an infielder, Baker, Miller and Naylor.
Shoemaker also received second team honors as an infielder, along with Singer and Cline.
Receiving honorable mention for their conference play were Erickson and Fisher.