By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Most programs don’t graduate the star power Aurora did and remain competitive.
But the Houn’ Dawgs overcame their inexperience and posted another 20-win season in 2019. With most of its lineup back, Aurora’s set up to continue its lofty standards.
“We will be missing the power arms that we’ve had the last couple of years but I believe we are in the midst of developing a pitching staff that may be as deep, or deeper, than any we have ever had,” said Aurora coach James Hoffman. “We will continue to stress attention to detail and how important daily preparation is to game-day performance.”
Aurora returns seven full-time starters and two part-time starters. The Houn’ Dawgs come off a 21-6 season where their lineup was filled sophomores and freshmen.
Senior Ryan Cline (OF/C) is a four-year starter and one of the team’s top hitters. The all-conference (honorable mention) outfielder batted .269 last season with eight extra-base hits (two homers), 16 RBIs and 18 steals.
“He’s a competitor and extremely coachable,” Hoffman said.
Aurora welcomes back two other senior starters in Jay Lee (P/INF) and Dylan Clayton (OF).
Lee led Aurora in innings pitched and was 3-2 overall with three saves and a 2.78 ERA. Clayton provides good versatility and defense.
“Jay was a workhorse,” Hoffman said. “He is capable of big things on the mound for us. He and Ryan Cline have high-level leadership qualities.
“Dylan played every outfield position and some third base. He’s a kid who will do anything you ask of him. He’s an extremely good defensive outfielder.”
Aurora has three juniors and three sophomores who all saw significant varsity action last season.
The juniors are Carson Barr (C/P), Clayton Reed (P/UTL) and Dalton Cline (DH/UTL).
Barr was the team’s regular catcher and led Aurora in batting average (.392). The all-state (honorable mention) selection had a team-high nine doubles with 14 RBIs and 11 steals.
“He is an extremely driven person and has worked hard in the offseason to put on weight and strength,” Hoffman said.
Reed had a breakout season on the mound, going 6-0 with a 2.69 ERA.
“We look for him to continue to provide us with good outings,” Hoffman said. “He has a tremendous amount of upside on the mound.”
Dalton Cline was a spot starter and primarily used as a designated hitter.
“He has good power from the left side of the plenty and has added some strength this offseason,” Hoffman said.
Aurora’s freshman class made a big impact in 2019. The likes of Trey Mulholland (P/INF), Aaron Fisher (OF/P) and Jaesik Friggle (INF/P) will look for further growth as sophomores this spring. All three hit .290 or better last season.
Mulholland went 5-3 on the mound with a 2.98 ERA. He also had 23 total hits, 29 RBIs and played both corner infield positions.
Fisher was second team all-conference as a freshman. He played every outfield spot and will likely see more time on the mound this season.
“He gets great jumps and reads on the ball from the outfield and has a strong, accurate arm,” Hoffman said.
Friggle was honorable mention all-conference. He had 13 RBIs, 14 steals and typically hit leadoff or 2-hole.
“He could move to shortstop full time depending on our personnel,” Hoffman said.
Aurora finished 21-6 overall last season, losing to Hollister in a stacked district tournament field.
Aurora entered 2019 with a lot of roster turnover following three straight final four appearances and a pair of state championships from 2016-18.
The Houn’ Dawgs overcame their inexperience and then some in-season adversity to post their fourth straight 20-win campaign.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of what last year’s team accomplished,” Hoffman said. “We had inexperience all over the field, but we had kids who knew our expectations. Throughout the season, we had numerous kids step up at various times and put us on their shoulders.
“At one point in the season we had six starters in and out with the flu, injuries and a concussion. During that span, our kids really showed how resilient they were.”
The Houn’ Dawgs graduated a pair of seniors in Gage Singer and Austin Hartwigsen.
Singer was one of the top players in the state.
He earned numerous awards and accolades during his four-year varsity career. As a senior, he went 6-0 with 83 strikeouts and no earned runs allowed in 35 innings pitched.
At the plate, he hit .386 with eight doubles, six homers, 21 RBIs and 11 steals.
He was named Big 8 Player of the Year, Class 3 first team all-state, O-Zone Player of the Year and Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year. Singer is continuing his baseball career at Crowder College in Neosho.
For his career, Singer tallied 153 strikeouts in just 70 innings (15.3 strikeouts per seven innings pitched).
“Gage was the most dominant arm in Southwest Missouri,” Hoffman said. “When he wasn’t pitching, he was a staple on the left side of the infield for four years and hit anywhere from leadoff to four-hole for us. Beyond his athletic accomplishments, he represented his school, community and family with class.”
Hartwigsen, an outfielder, was a two-year starter. He was still recovering from knee surgery at the start of the season.
“Austin really worked hard to come back and be able to contribute his senior year,” Hoffman said. “His perseverance through the recovery process is something that our young kids will learn from.”
New names competing for varsity playtime include junior Tony Martinez (OF/INF) and sophomore Jacob Jordan (P).
“Tony can play multiple positions. He’s primarily played outfield for us but we’ll look to get him more time on the infield this year based on our pitching assignments,” Hoffman said.
Jordan shined on the mound for Aurora’s JV team last season.
“He really bought in to the things we teach and made tremendous progress,” Hoffman said.
A pair of freshmen – Kelton Brown (P/UTL) and Hayze Hoffman (UTL) – bring more versatility and depth to Aurora’s roster. Hayze is the son of the head coach.
“We think our kids understand our expectations and are capable of meeting the challenges that they will face on a daily basis,” James Hoffman said. “We will continue to stress the importance of competing against the game rather than focusing on what jersey the opponent is wearing.”
Aurora begins the season March 20-21 at the Bolivar Tournament.
The Houn’ Dawgs will again play a competitive non-conference schedule in addition to a rigorous Big 8 slate.
“With the caliber of players and coaches in the Big 8 East, you have to bring your ‘A’ game every day out or you’re going to get beat,” James Hoffman said. “Last year, the teams in our division took turns beating each other up and we had to go to a tie breaker to determine the outright champion. I would expect the same level of competition this year.”