One bad inning made all the difference as the Doncaster Dragons fell to Cheltenham at Deep Creek on Saturday.
The game was deadlocked at 1-1 after five innings, largely due to some terrific pitching by both starters. But it all went horribly wrong for the Dragons in the sixth. They conceded nine runs as the Rustlers took full advantage and set up what turned out to be an 11-1 mercy-rule result.
For the fourth time in as many outings, Doncaster starter Luke Westphal was brilliant. He pitched five strong innings, striking out 10 batters and walking two. Impressive though those numbers were, it was actually his worst outing so far, in that he allowed four hits and gave up his first run of the season.
Unfortunately for Doncaster, Cheltenham starter Blake Cunningham was equally impressive. In contrast to Westphal, Cunningham recorded only one strikeout but was well supported by his field, allowing just the one run in six innings.
The Dragons' only run came in the third inning. Catcher Billy Findlay led off with a double and moved to third base on right fielder Callum Lethborg's single. With no designated hitter in use, Westphal's RBI fielder's choice put his team on the scoreboard.
As has been the case in all four games so far, hits and runs were hard to come by. Findlay's single in the fifth inning was Doncaster's only other hit, while Cheltenham finished the game with 10.
The Dragons, who have averaged only one run per game so far, will hope to improve on that dismal run production when they venture to Upwey Ferntree Gully for their Round 5 game next Sunday.
- John McDonald