By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The lineup looks a lot different from last year – and nothing like two years ago – but at least one thing hasn’t changed for the Aurora High School baseball team.
Class 4’s two-time defending state champs are still finding ways to win.
The Houn’ Dawgs edged Camdenton, 2-1, on Saturday afternoon in a neutral-site game at Republic High School. Aurora improved to 11-1 overall.
“I don’t know how they keep doing it with as young as we are,” said Aurora coach James Hoffman. “With our starting lineup only having three or four upperclassmen most days, our freshmen and sophomores have made a nice adjustment to varsity baseball.”
Hoffman said the early season lineup has included three freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and just one senior.
Against the Lakers, Aurora started freshman Trey Mulholland. He threw four innings. Sophomore Clayton Reed came on in relief and threw the final three innings.
“(The younger players) are the big key to the success,” Hoffman said. “We know our (veteran) players are going to perform and get the job done. Our younger ones have really stepped up and done a nice job.”
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Aurora got a go-ahead, two-run double from junior Ryan Cline.
He erased a frustrating day with one swing.
“To be honest with you, I play my best whenever I don’t think,” Cline said. “So that’s where I was. I was just open-minded. I had been struggling for most of the day. I needed to pick myself up.”
Earlier in the inning, Aurora attempted a sacrifice bunt after drawing a leadoff walk, only to have Camdenton commit a throwing error. The miscue gave Aurora runners on second and third with no outs.
Camdenton starting pitcher Garrett Stamper nearly worked his way out of the jam by getting the next two batters to ground out. He fielded both plays.
“That’s a tough play. Having to turn your body, look at that third baseman, then turn your feet and body again and deliver a strike to first base,” said Lakers coach Bryce Durnin. “Hat’s off to him. He’s been a competitor all year. He’s just a winner.”
Stamper, a lefthander, threw all seven innings and allowed three hits while striking out three.
The next batter, Cline, worked his way to a 3-1 count. He drilled the next pitch over the left fielder’s head to bring in both runners.
“That 3-1 count is huge for him because he’s a hunter,” Hoffman said. “You give him a fastball when he knows a fastball’s coming, he’s going to light it up. He did what we teach: 3-1 count, 3-1 cut. I’d prefer (a home run), but we’ll take two runs.”
Camdenton went ahead 1-0 in the fourth inning on an RBI single from Brandon Pasley. Drake Miller led off the inning with a single, then stole second to get in scoring position.
The Lakers stranded runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh innings.
“In the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, teams like (Aurora), they make a great play defensively or they executive something offensively when the game’s on the line,” Durnin said. “That’s what they’re doing. That’s what they continue to do. And that’s something we’re just not doing right now.”
Aurora beat Republic, 3-1, in the first game of the day. Gage Singer had a two-run homer.
Saturday’s outcome dropped Camdenton to 4-4 overall. The Lakers finished their day by playing Republic.
Camdenton plays at West Plains on Tuesday in Ozark Conference action. Aurora hosts Big 8 foe Cassville the same day.
“We have a little bit of a target on our back, but I think we’re handling it well,” Cline said. “Especially with the young guys coming up. They’re coming up big.”