History may not repeat itself, but it does tend to rhyme.
The third stanza of the Aurora vs. Helias Catholic epic did in fact rhyme with the first two, as the Houn' Dawgs recorded another win over the Crusaders to return to the Final Four, but last Thursday's game could hardly be seen as a repeat of the last two meetings between the teams.
Those previous two meetings were offensive showcases for Aurora: in 2016, the Houn' Dawgs punched their ticket to O'Fallon with a 9-4 win in Joplin, and last year Coach James Hoffman's team went to Jefferson City and came home with an 8-2 win.
This year, though, the perennial opponents only managed one run between them, and, luckily for Aurora fans, it was on their side of the scoreboard.
A second-inning, leadoff home run by Gage Singer and another near-flawless pitching performance by Wyatt Sparks were the difference in the 1-0 win, which put the Houn' Dawgs in a great position to defend their state title.
The visitors on the scoreboard after losing the pregame coin toss, the Houn' Dawgs could not touch Helias hurler Zach Davidson in the first inning, going down on three straight strikeouts. Sparks took care of the opposition almost as quickly in the bottom half of the inning, save for a two-out walk.
Singer took Davidson deep on a 2-0 pitch to start off the second inning, and that would be all it took to send the Dawgs back to Car Shield Field for the third straight year.
Despite Aurora only recording four hits and striking out 12 times over seven innings, the team pulled out the win thanks in part to some stellar defense. The left side of the Houn' Dawg infield was busy, with third baseman Jay Lee and Singer at shortstop racking up eight assists between them -- with Matthew Miller making sure no throws got past him at first base.
But the biggest defensive play of the day was perhaps a game-saver in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs and running out of time to save their season, the Crusaders needed a hit to get a rally started. A fly ball tailing toward the line in right field looked to be just that, but an all-out diving catch by Austin Erickson snuffed out that hope and ended the inning with the momentum still on Aurora's side.
Then, as he has done all season, Sparks finished off the opponents in quick succession in the bottom of the seventh to send the team back to the state semifinals.
The Missouri State signee finished with seven strikeouts over seven innings, allowing just two Crusaders to reach base over the course of the game.
Sparks also finished with two of Aurora's four hits, including a one-out double in the fourth inning. Along with Singer's home run, the only other hit came off the bat of Cody Childress. Miller and Miah Fisher each recorded a walk.
The Houn' Dawgs (29-1) will face Boonville in the semifinals, in a clash between two one-loss teams. The Pirates are 24-1 on the season, with their one loss coming on the road at Hannibal. Semifinal action will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, with the winner moving on to face the winner of St. Mary's/Excelsior Springs at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The third place game is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday.