Dragons sink Pirates in pitchers duel

Happy New Year!  Who needs fireworks and a countdown clock when you can celebrate the New Year with an important win, as the Doncaster Dragons did against Preston at Deep Creek on Saturday?

The Dragons began 2015 as they had finished 2014, beating a highly ranked team in a tight, low-scoring contest. The 2-1 final score was an accurate reflection of a game in which hits were hard to come by and pitching dominated.

To nobody's surprise, Luke Westphal started for Doncaster and continued his season-long domination. Showing no signs of rust after the Christmas break, Westphal bamboozled the Pirates with fastballs, sliders and off-speed pitches. In seven innings, Westphal allowed only an unearned run, striking out 14 while giving up two hits and three walks.

But making life tough for Doncaster was Preston starter Andrew Smiley, who was also impressive in allowing just one run on four hits and no walks, with three strikeouts.

After four scoreless innings, Preston took the lead with an unearned run in the top of the fifth. But the Dragons, who had earlier wasted an opportunity to score with runners on second and third and no outs, finally came up with a timely hit.

Michael Mazzocato, in his first game back from injury, singled and stole second, then scored on Nic Unland's line-drive single up the middle to tie the scores.

Doncaster took the lead for the first time in the bottom of the seventh -- with some help from the Preston infield. Billy Findlay led off with a single, Mazzocato reached on a misplayed fielder's choice and Andrew Reeves bunted successfully. Unland's ground ball then scored Findlay as the Pirates made a rushed throw to the plate and the ball got away from catcher Leigh Bertrand to give the Dragons a 2-1 lead.

Then it was up to relievers Andrew Chesterton and Callum Lethborg, who did exactly what was required. Chesterton made up for a lead-off walk by starting a 1-3-6 caught stealing and retiring the next two batters.

Lethborg gave up a double to Stephen Hood -- the only extra-base hit of the game -- but retired three batters to earn the save.

The Dragons (8-10) have a chance to make it three wins in a row when they host Waverley at Deep Creek next Saturday.

- John McDonald