ANDERSON — The McDonald County Mustangs entered Thursday’s Big 8 Conference contest against the defending Class 4 state champions Aurora one of the hottest teams around.

The Mustangs had won nine of their last 10 games to improve to 11-4 overall and 3-0 Big 8.

Aurora entered the game unbeaten this season and on a 21-game winning streak with the last defeat nearly a year ago.

Aurora’s Wyatt Sparks and McDonald County’s Boston Dowd were dueling — not banjos — on Thursday, dueling zeroes.

For the first five innings, neither team could push a run across the scoreboard.

Aurora broke it open with three runs in the top of the sixth and held on for a 3-1 win over McDonald County in a game that could go toward deciding the Big 8 champion.

Sparks was exceptional Thursday, allowing one run (unearned) on three hits over seven innings and he struck out 15 and walked none.

Dowd, who battled Webb City’s Tyler Martin to a similar final score in McDonald County’s previous loss, allowed three runs (all earned) on six hits over seven innings and he struck out five and walked two.

Just how well did both Sparks and Dowd pitch on Thursday?

Both pitchers finished well under 100 pitches — Dowd 89 and Sparks 84. Sparks averaged exactly 12 pitches per inning.

McDonald County catcher Joe Brown had two of the Mustangs’ three hits and Oakley Roessler had the other hit. Courtesy runner Sampson Boles scored the lone run.

Six different Aurora players collected hits — Sparks, Miah Fisher, Ryan Cline, Blake Williams, Austin Hartwigsen, and Jay Lee each with one. Cline drove in two runs and Fisher had one RBI.

In the sixth, Lee and Sparks hit back-to-back singles and then Fisher made it three straight with a single to score Lee. With two outs and the bases loaded, Cline delivered a two-run single.

McDonald County threatened with one down in the sixth as Roessler doubled, but Sparks picked up the final two outs and Roessler stayed at second.

The Mustangs scored their lone run in the seventh on a passed ball with two outs. Brown singled and Boles ran for Brown, hence the fact that Boles scored the Mustangs’ only run.

McDonald County dropped to 11-5 and 3-1 Big 8, and the Mustangs returned to action Friday at home against Rogers Heritage. McDonald County played district rival Joplin at home Saturday.