Dragons just fall short in 12 inning thriller

Two spirited fightbacks, great defence, solid pitching and hits throughout the line-up .... the Doncaster Dragons produced all that but still came up empty in an extra-innings thriller against Geelong at Deep Creek.

Baycat Matt Ryan launched a huge three-run homer in the top of the 12th inning that proved decisive as Geelong won 7-5.

It capped off a great game for Ryan, who had four hits, but was a heartbreaking loss for the Dragons, who produced their best performance of the young season but still came up short.

The Doncaster hitters continued to make good contact but again failed to make the most of opportunities. Through the first five innings – a span of 21 plate appearances -- not one batter had struck out. But despite all the contact, the Dragons had only one run to show for it.

This was in part due to some tidy pitching by Geelong starter James Wood, who showed that a pitcher does not have to strike out batters to be successful. Wood had zero strikeouts, but allowed just four hits and three walks and left after five innings with his team leading 2-1.

Steele Ratcliffe started on the mound for Doncaster and kept his team in the game with six innings of solid work. Ratcliffe had plenty of traffic on the bases, allowing eight hits and three walks, but pitched out of some tight situations by making good pitches at the right time.

The Dragons did not hit the scoreboard until the fifth inning, when Scott Carr led off with one of his three walks for the day and later scored on Scott Couling’s double.

Trailing by two in the bottom of the seventh, Doncaster halved the deficit, again thanks to a walk by Carr and an RBI groundout by Couling.

In the eighth, Michael Mazzocato hit a clutch two-out double to drive in Nic Unland and tie the game.

After a scoreless ninth, the teams went to extra innings. Geelong, which had not scored since the fifth inning thanks to some stellar work by reliever Rhys Hopper (5ip, 1h, 3bb, 4k) , reclaimed the lead with a couple of solid hits.

But when all seemed lost, the Dragons staged yet another fightback.  Javan Williams singled with one out, then Unland walked. Again it was Michael Mazzocato who produced a clutch hit, scoring Williams and re-tying the game.

Ryan’s huge blast over the right field fence gave Geelong a three-run cushion, but even then the Dragons did not give up. In the bottom of the 12th inning, Ben Utting led off with a single and later scored on a wayward throw – the only error of the game by either team.

Again, it was a solid effort throughout the line-up. Every Doncaster player reached base at least once, with Michael and Andrew Mazzocato each collecting two hits, as did Utting.

It was a tough loss for the Dragons, who nonetheless showed they could match it with the best teams in the competition. They have now played last season’s top two teams – Essendon and Geelong – and suffered narrow defeats both times.

The Dragons hope to improve on their 1-3 record when they play yet another Saturday home game, this time against Sunshine, next week.

For pictures from Saturday’s firsts and reserves games, check out http://www.vicsummerleague.baseball.com.au/default.asp?Page=95928