By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
ROGERSVILLE — Wyatt Sparks’ domination on the mound, Matthew Miller’s clutch hitting and Rogersville’s competitive nature made Aurora’s 2-0, eight-inning triumph over the Wildcats on Wednesday seemingly predictable.
It certainly continued an all-too familiar trend.
Miller’s game-winning RBI single in the eighth marked the fourth straight matchup between the programs over the past three seasons in which a tie score was broken in the final inning.
Miller has accounted for the game-winning hit versus Rogersville in three straight games. He did so twice last year.
“I knew it was going to be a good game between us, it always is,” Miller said. “It’s always good to play them and compete.”
“It’s a close game every year,” Sparks added. “It’s one I look forward to.”
It was Miller’s time again Thursday, as the sweet-swinging left-hander brought home Gage Singer with no one out in the eighth to finally put the Class 4 No. 1-ranked Houn’ Dawgs (9-0) on top.
“My confidence is pretty high in those situations,” Miller said. “I treat them just like any other at-bat. I’m there to hit the ball, no matter what position I’m in.”
Aurora was still in position to win, despite being shut out over the first seven innings, as Sparks turned in as good an effort he’s had. He teamed with reliever Austin Erickson for a no-hitter.
Sparks needed the minimum nine pitches to strike out the side in the first, fanned first eight batters he faced and finished with 16 strikeouts opposite two walks. He was relieved by Erickson after throwing 103 pitches over seven innings.
“He was good today,” coach James Hoffman said. “Was he better than he usually is? I couldn’t say whether he was or wasn’t. That’s just Wyatt Sparks. That’s what he does.”
“I felt really good,” Sparks said. “My stuff was working really good. I felt like I could have went two more innings.”
Sparks struck out the final five batters he faced. His repeatedly caught the Wildcats looking at strike three with his curve ball in the early going and was overpowering with his fast ball late.
“I reversed things in the later innings by starting out with my curve ball and finishing out with my fast ball,” he said.
“Today he came out with a great intensity level,” Miller said. “He was shutting them down, like he always does.”
Sparks has already been part of two no-hitters this season.
“Since it was such a close game and we were trying to score, I didn’t even think about that part of the game,” he said of his no-no Wednesday.
With Sparks’ heat being clocked as high as the low 90s, Hoffman said there is speculation his right-handed ace could be taken in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. Sparks has signed with Missouri State.
“You hear people talking and texts from scouts asking when you’re playing, but that stuff is out of our hands,” Hoffman said. “He’s pretty level-headed about that. The great thing about him is he doesn’t think about it. He could care less. He doesn’t let it affect him. A lot of kids would be arrogant. But he’s just a hard-working, blue-collar kid.
“He’s got one goal and it’s to win every time we go out.”
Rogersville starting pitcher Reed Metz turned in five shutout innings, before being lifted after throwing 86 pitches.
“It looked like he had some good velocity and his curve ball was good,” Sparks said. “We got some runners on against him, but couldn’t get them in.”
Miller’s game-winner was followed up an RBI single by Cody Chldress.
“For our kids to be able to compete in high-stress situations like today, it says a lot about their character,” Hoffman said. “It also says a lot about what they’re capable of doing in the long run.”
Aurora 000 000 02 – 2 5 0
Rogersville 000 000 00 – 0 0 1
WP – Sparks. LP – Rambo. Save – Erickson.