It would not have surprised most Aurora baseball fans if Tuesday's Class 4, District 11 championship game had put them on the edges of their seats. After all, in the past two such games at Hollister High School, the Houn' Dawgs required late-inning heroics to claim the title of district champions.
This year, though, no such dramatics were required. Top-seeded and number one state-ranked Aurora brought home a third straight championship plaque after decisively defeating third-seeded Springfield Catholic by a score of 9-2.
Behind a masterful performance by senior pitcher Wyatt Sparks, the Houn' Dawgs rolled to victory after a six-run second inning put the game out of reach for the Fightin' Irish.
Gage Singer led off the inning with a walk, advancing to second when Sparks was hit by a pitch. Blake Williams came to the plate to sacrifice bunt, but reached base himself when the Catholic catcher overthrew first base on the play, scoring Singer and advancing Sparks to third. Sparks then scored as Austin Erickson reached base on an error by the shortstop.
After a sacrifice bunt, a flyout and a walk, an infield single by Ryan Cline drove in another run, as did two straight bases-loaded walks to Matthew Miller and Singer. In his second trip to the plate in the inning, Sparks singled to drive in the sixth run for the Houn' Dawgs.
The Irish went down quickly in the top of the third, bringing the Houn' Dawgs to bat again. Following a leadoff single by Erickson, Jay Lee blasted a two-run home run over the left-centerfield fence to make it an eight-run game.
Aurora wasn't finished yet, as Miah Fisher doubled with one out, stole third and later came around to score on an errant pickoff throw to make it 9-0.
Sparks continued to dominate on the mound, at one point racking up seven straight strikeouts. That streak, as well as his no-hit bid, was snapped with two outs in the top of the sixth. The only two blemishes on the ace's day came in the form of a double and a home run by back-to-back Catholic batters.
But Sparks handled the next four hitters as easily as the ones before, finishing off the game and the district tournament with his 15th strikeout of the day.
With a subdued celebration, the Houn' Dawgs lifted their third district championship plaque in three years, looking ahead to next week's sectional game, the next step on the road to repeating as state champions.
Erickson led the Houn' Dawg offense in the final, racking up three hits, two runs and one RBI. Lee added two RBI and a run on his home run, and Fisher contributed two runs on one hit and a walk.
In Monday's 4-1 win over Logan-Rogersville, Matthew Miller's three-run homer was the difference and one of just three Aurora hits on the night. Erickson picked up the win, throwing six innings and allowing six hits while striking out 10. Singer threw the seventh inning to get the save, striking out two of his three batters faced.
The Houn' Dawgs (27-1) will continue their journey back to state on Tuesday with a stop in Nevada, where they will face the District 12 champion Tigers (15-8). With a win, the Dawgs would advance to quarterfinals on Thursday, at a location to be determined. Tuesday's first pitch will be at 5 p.m.