The 2018 Aurora Houn’ Dawg pitching staff was set to go down as one of the best the state has ever seen coming into the Class 4 State Championship game.
That legend only grew on Saturday as senior Austin Erickson threw a complete-game no-hitter to help Aurora beat St. Mary’s 2-0 and win a second consecutive Class 4 State Championship.
Erickson, who threw 2.1 innings in last year’s state championship game to pick up the win, drew on that experience this season.
“I pitched here last year. You just have to take it one pitch at a time. Take a breath before every pitch, Erickson said.
Erickson struggled a bit early going deep into counts with several St. Mary’s batters before really settling in during the middle of the game. All totaled, Erickson retired 18 of the first 19 batters he faced with the lone blemish being a third-inning, two-out walk.
St. Mary’s pitcher Bryce Grossius was right there battling Erickson throughout the game. Aurora consistently got runners on base in the middle innings, but couldn’t scrape one across until the top of the fifth.
Catcher Ryan Cline blooped a ball to center and took second after a collision between two St. Mary’s players. Matthew Miller stepped up next and hit a ball to the warning track, but Cline was able to take third base on the fly out. Cline would then score on a pass ball to give Aurora a 1-0 lead.
“We knew it was going to be a low scoring ball game and we had to do what we had to do,” Cline said.
“He (Cline) busts his tail everywhere he goes. He is probably one of the hardest working kids that we have. It doesn’t matter where the ball goes, he is running hard,” Hoffman said.
In the sixth, Aurora would get another insurance run as Cody Childress singled up the middle to bring Wyatt Sparks home.
“I was struggling all day and I knew I needed to do something to help my team out,” Childress said.
In the bottom of the seventh, the first St. Mary’s runner reached on an error at first. After a foul out to first base, Erickson hit a batter to put two on base. Erickson induced a groundout to get the second out before hitting another batter with a curve ball to load the bases with two out.
Hoffman came out of the dugout to talk to his team at the mound.
“(I told them) we just need one more out and it is over. We have done this 3,000 times this year and it is nothing new,” Hoffman said. “I just went out to talk to them about having fun and enjoying it. There were no magic words at all in that situation.”
Confidence was the key.
“Just being confident. That is all it takes. He (Erickson) is a confident guy and can shake things off,” Cline said. “There is really no nerves. Baseball is all about being confident. I think it is an important part that I stay confident. If he is confident then I am confident.”
Erickson had enough confidence to go back to a curve ball that he previously hit two batter with to get a check-swing strikeout to end the game and secure a second state title for the Houn’ Dawgs.
“I am at a loss for words for what these kids have done not just for me but for our community. It is just awesome to be able to bring this home,” Hoffman said. “The pressure these kids were under all year to repeat and make it back to the Final Four. These are high school kids. They don’t need that pressure, but they accepted and competed their tails off.”
Erickson finished with 10 strikeouts in the game and his first career no-hitter. Aurora finishes 31-1 on the season behind a stellar six-player senior class.
“They are going to be remembered. They are an extremely special group. To lose the kids that we did and for them to come back here and an accomplish another state championship is pretty big,” Hoffman said.