By Derek Shore
For Aurora and right-hander Wyatt Sparks, it was just another day at the office.
Sparks, who was two outs shy of a no-hitter before it was broken up in the seventh, had a dynamic one-two punch in his fastball which topped at 88 mph combated by a wipeout curveball to lift the Class 4 No. 1 ranked Houn Dawgs past No. 6 ranked Monett with a 4-0 shutout win on Tuesday.
“Today his intent was just to dominate the bottom of the zone with every pitch that he threw,” Aurora head coach James Hoffman said of Sparks, who posted a whopping 13 punchouts in a complete game one-hitter. “He did a pretty good job of that.
Monett’s head coach Michael Calhoun echoed his counterpart.
“Wyatt does a great job,” Calhoun said. “Throws a ton of strikes and locates his pitches very well. He’s got excellent velocity on his fastball and breaking ball. He’s a good pitcher.”
According to his coach, the now-junior entered his freshman year with a lot of command issues, coming into saves situations and was Aurora’s No. 3, No. 4 starter on the pitching staff while being limited to innings.
Over the last two years, Hoffman has seen tremendous growth in Sparks.
“Last year when he got here, you were just like, ‘Wow, he’s starting to become a man.’ And he was good,” he added. “He hammered the fastball, and the curveball was decent. Then this year he shows up, and I told people, ‘Last year people were facing a kid. This year they’re facing a man.’ Just in his growth physically and athletically. He’s going to be a good one.”
Of the 13 strikeouts he had, Sparks recorded 12 of those via swinging strikeouts.
“(The stuff) felt really good today,” he said. “The fastball felt better than it has in the past. Curveball was alright.”
Not only that, the Missouri State commit, who came to the plate right after his teammate Brett Schellen dropped down a bunt which led to an errant throw at first base by the Cubs hurler Blake Spain to put the Houn Dawgs on the board in the fourth. Sparks followed by launching a three-run blast to deep left field as the knockout punch for Aurora, 4-0.
“I was looking for an inside fastball (during that at-bat),” Sparks said. “That’s what he gave me, and I was looking to turn on something.”
As an offense, Aurora boasted 12 hits. The team’s top of the order – Sparks (lead-off), Matthew Miller (two-hole), and Gage Singer (three-hole) – went a combined 8-for-12 with a 3-run homer, triple, two doubles, and four singles on the day in the Big 8 Conference opener.
“(The emphasis) isn’t going to change (opening conference play),” Hoffman said. “Our pitchers are going to try to pound the bottom of the zone. Our job at the plate is to put the best swing on the baseball every single time. We’re not big on taking defensive hacks or just putting the ball in play.
“I want them moving the baseball with authority and with intent. If that pitcher sees the quality of cuts that our guys are putting on their time after time after time, he’s got one more thing to think about.”
Despite being handcuffed to only one hit, the Cubs were able to hold their own against the top-ranked team in Class 4.
“They returned a good team from a third-place finish last year,” Calhoun said. “They’re excited, and there was a good crowd today. They made the plays they needed to make at the time to get the win. I respect their coach, their program, and team. Hopefully, we get to see them again sometime.”
Aurora (10-0) travels to Mt. Vernon on Thursday while Monett (10-2) hops on the bus for Seneca on the same day as well.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H
Monett 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Aurora 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 4 12