Will play in the second game Friday at CarShield Field in O'Fallon starting at 6:30 p.m.
If anybody is battle tested when it comes to the state playoff, it’s the Aurora Houn’ Dawgs.
After winning the state title last year, the Houn’ Dawgs will go into Friday’s semifinal game against the Boonville Pirates as the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Class 4.
Friday’s semifinal game between the 29-1 Aurora Houn’ Dawgs and the 24-1 Boonville Pirates will be held at CarShield Field in O’Fallon at 6:30 p.m. The winner will advance to Saturday’s championship game at 1:30 p.m. while the loser will play for third place at 11 a.m.
Of course both Boonville and Aurora have had their share of close games in the postseason. For the Pirates, they have come from behind in the last three games to beat Kirksville 8-3 in the district championship, Lutheran St. Charles 6-2 in sectionals and Westminster Christian Academy 7-6 on a walk off walk in the bottom-half of the seventh.
As for Aurora, they won 4-1 over Logan-Rogersville in the semifinal round of the district tournament and then won 6-5 over Nevada in sectionals and 1-0 over Helias in quarterfinals.
As for the top-half of the bracket, St. Mary’s (17-10) will take on Excelsior Springs (20-9) in the first game on Friday.
Boonville Pirates baseball coach Fred Smith, who is stepping down at the end of the season, said his team is going to have to come and play again.
“We are going to have to play our best game to get it done,” Smith said. “They have four quality pitchers. Of course the Sparks kid is probably their No. 1, but I think they are a lot like us in that we are both on good runs. I think we were at six wins when we lost to Hannibal so we are sitting on about 18 in a row and I think they have 10 in a row since their loss to Willard. Obviously we were there two years ago with them. They finished fourth and we got second. They won it all last year so they are rich in tradition.”
Making their fourth Final Four appearance since 2008, the Pirates are currently 1-4.
Boonville finished tied for third in 2008 after dropping their opening game against Webb City 14-3. Then, in 2013, the Pirates finished fourth after losing to both Oak Grove 4-3 and Logan-Rogersville 8-7. Meanwhile, in 2016, Boonville placed second by losing to MICDS in the championship 7-3.
Boonville and Aurora also have several similarities going into Friday’s game. While the Pirates currently hit .331 for the season, the Houn’ Dawgs are batting .306 as a team. Of course neither team has hit a lot of home runs this season with Aurora topping off at 12 and Boonville with nine.
However, the Pirates currently have 55 doubles compared to 52 for Aurora and 70 stolen bases with the Houn’ Dawgs at 80.
As for the pitching, Aurora has four quality pitchers with Sparks leading the way at 8-1 with an ERA of 0.84 with 118 strikeouts in 58 innings. Senior Austin Erickson also has eight wins on the season with an ERA of 0.79 with 79 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings while Gage Singer and Mathew Miller are both 4-0 with 67 and 46 strikeouts, respectively.
Smith said while the Pirates rely on three guys with similar numbers, Aurora has that fourth guy that’s really stepped up and done it.
“They play good competition throughout the year so obviously we know we have to go in there and play really well,” Smith said. “One advantage I would like to think that we might have is that we might be able to hit the ball a little bit better than them. Again it’s those moments where somebody steps up and makes the play and does their job.”
The Houn’ Dawgs also have four hitters batting over .300 this season. Singer is the leading hitter for Aurora with a .474 average with 37 hits, which includes 12 doubles and five triples. Miller is currently hitting .407 with 40 RBIs, 12 doubles and six home runs while Sparks and Jeremiah Fisher are currently hitting .365 and .347, respectively.
As for the Pirates, senior Kole Ficken currently leads the team in several categories while hitting .481 with 38 hits in 79 at-bats with 19 singles, 11 doubles, six home runs and 42 RBIs. He also has a on-base percentage of .570 and a slugging percentage of .899.
Other leaders for Boonville are Ethan Waibel with 79 at-bats with 33 runs scored and Trae Williams with five triples.
Eight of the nine starters for Boonville are also hitting .300 or better for the season.
As for the pitching, senior Jared Viertel is currently 10-0 with an ERA of 1.167 with 75 strikeouts in 54 innings. Junior Reece Lang is also undefeated at 6-0 with an ERA of .972 with 47 strikeouts in 36 innings. Meanwhile, as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation, junior Connor Barnes is 5-1 with 67 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings.
Viertel will get the start on Friday, Smith said. Meanwhile, in either the championship game or third place game, Barnes will get the starting nod with Lang coming in for relief if needed.
Smith said either way he told the players they are winning their last game no matter if it’s for first or third.
“Only a couple of teams can say they won the last game of the season,” Smith said. “I have already told them after I handed out the itinerary today that we are going to win the last game. I like this team right now because their is no quit in them. Early on in the season I was kind of at the point where I was frustrated because we didn’t go for the juggler, but at the same time we got down a couple of different times, especially this last week and just kept hanging in there and kept fighting.
“You know how high school kids are, they think they are undefeatable. They feel like they are going to do it all, especially after this last week with the two tough ballgames so I am going to tell them anything different. We are playing well and we believe and I am sure Aurora feels the same way.”
Smith said getting off to a fast start against Sparks, assuming he will be the starter, will also be key.
“We like to run with certain people,” Smith said. “However, I think they’ve got more ability to run up and down the lineup. Obviously Dylan Watson (catcher) is going to bring his A game for that part of it, but it’s really important to get up early because you are going against their No. 1 and if you can put a dent in him I feel like you have a better chance.”