The Aurora Houn' Dawgs lost their first game of the season last Saturday -- snapping a winning streak that lasted almost an entire calendar year -- but were undeterred moving forward, beating Lamar on Tuesday to earn the Big 8 Conference championship.
The conference title is the team's third in three years and was wrapped up just days after the Houn' Dawgs dropped their first game since May 6 of last spring, falling 5-2 to Willard in the first game of a home double-header.
The Aurora offense struggled to get anything meaningful going against the Willard starter, recording just six hits, including a fourth-inning solo home run by Matthew Miller. The Dawgs' only other run came on an RBI single by Blake Williams.
Wyatt Sparks took the loss, throwing six innings and allowing just five hits. Willard recorded three earned runs against the ace but struck out 10 times along the way.
The Houn' Dawgs wasted no time turning things around after the loss, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first against West Plains en route to a 7-1 victory.
A one-out double by Miah Fisher got things going for the home team, followed by a Miller triple and sacrifice fly by Gage Singer to make it 2-0. West Plains would score its run in the top of the third, but Aurora got that run back in the bottom frame after Fisher singled and later scored on a balk.
The Dawgs added four more runs in the bottom of the fifth and held on for their 19th win of the year. Fisher led the offense with three hits and three runs scored, while Miller added an RBI and two runs on one hit and Ryan Cline recorded a hit, a run and two RBI.
Austin Erickson was the winning pitcher for Aurora, allowing four hits and one run over five innings and striking out three. Singer came in for two innings of relief, allowing one hit and striking out seven (one reached on a dropped third strike).
The Dawgs again got off to a hot start in Tuesday's final conference game at Lamar. Fisher led off the game with a walk and scored quickly after on a double by Cline. Miller then smacked a double of his own, but Cline was held up at third -- not for long, however, as he would score on a Singer sacrifice fly. Despite a walk and a hit batter, Aurora would go down without scoring again in the inning.
Fisher scored again in the second to make it 3-0 before Lamar put up a run in the bottom of the third. But Aurora responded with two more runs in the top of the fourth. Cline got things going with two outs, singling to left and scoring on a single by Miller. Singer kept up the trend with a single of his own to score Miller and make it a 5-1 game.
Lamar added a second run in the bottom of the frame, but again the Houn' Dawgs responded in kind and then some, and again with two outs. A walk, a hit batter and another walk loaded the bases for Miller, who crushed his second grand slam of the season to make it 9-2. Singer followed up with a single, but a fielder's choice on the next batter kept the Dawgs from starting another rally.
Miller added to his RBI total with a double to score Cline in the seventh, cementing the Big 8 title for the Houn' Dawgs, as Lamar came back with two runs in the final frame, but it was far from enough to challenge the Aurora lead.
Miller's four hits and six RBI led the offense, while Singer and Cline added three hits and two RBI each. Cline also scored four runs, followed by Fisher with three, Miller with two and Austin Hartwigsen with one. Every batter in the Aurora lineup recorded at least one hit.
Singer earned the win for the Dawgs, working five innings and allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out eight. Miller allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings of relief.
The Houn' Dawgs will wrap up the regular season with the Forsyth Tournament this weekend before traveling to Branson next Thursday. The district tournament will begin May 12.