Doncaster Dragons could very easily have won two games in three days against the conference leading Blackburn Orioles, but came away rather frustrated with a loss and a draw.
Game One - Sunday 25 January
Doncaster 9 Blackburn 11
‘Dragons Baseball’ might be undergoing a definition change. Jokingly used by the team in reference how the team gets on base it might now include a subscript i) unexpected power ability. Riding a 4-game winning streak that is the longest in recent memory the Dragons headed down to Billabong Park for an Australia Day weekend blockbuster. 3rd baseman Nic Unland set the tone in the 1st inning with a single to centre field. Doncaster, missing manager Ben Utting who was at a weddinghad a different line up with hot hitting Left Fielder Brendan McDonald slotted into the clean-up spot. His day started slowly grounding into a fielder’s choice making it 2 out in the 1st but that brought up Right Fielder Callum Lethborg to the plate. Lethborg smashed a 2-2 offering from Blackburn’s import pitcher Jake Tuck over the left-centre field wall giving the Dragons their first Home Run for the year and more importantly an early 2-0 lead.
Dutch teenager Matz Schutte took the hill for the Dragons and although not a dominant display kept the score line tight for 4 runs over 5 innings of work. His only real trouble came in the 3rd inning where the Orioles scored 3 runs. After the 1st inning the Dragons themselves were kept quiet until the 5th where number 9 hitter Travis Cutt was hit giving him a free pass. Then Unland, in his final at bat for the day, singled to right field. Unland was to leave the game, also for a kids birthday party. Cutt scored on a passed ball before McDonald got his second hit and drove in Unland to put Doncaster back in the lead. Unland promptly stopped on home plate and made the change to bring in fan favourite Glenn McColl.
Blackburn hit back to score 1 in the 5th but the Dragons weren’t going anywhere! First Baseman Andrew Reeeves was plugged in the arm and then Schutte singled to right field. Travis Cutt laid down a bunt but the resulting throw went wild as Tuck tried to get Reeves at 3rd base allowing 2 more Dragons runs to score. In his 1sts debut, former WTP tour player McColl drilled a single up the middle in his first ever at bat to score Cutt making it a ‘crooked’ number inning and putting the Dragons up 7-4. Coming off some dominating performances this year in the 2’s Wil Wenborn also made his well earned debut. The game can be a matter of inches at times and the inches went Blackburn’s way in this see sawing contest bringing in Dave Miller to mop up the inning now down 8-7.
The Dragons were deflated for a few moments and went quietly and Blackburn capitalised on a muffed fly to extend their lead out to 9-7. They say winning breeds confidence and on the back of our recent streak, confidence that a win wasn’t out of the question was still high. After a great lead off base on balls to Travis Cutt and then 2 quick outs ENTER – Brendan McDonald. Facing unquestionably one of the best pitchers Australia has produced in Adam Bright, McDonald absolutely smoked a 1-0 offering way over left field and brought the Doncaster Faithful to life! One could only imagine if this game was at Deep Creek how loud the noise would have been!
Sadly a small misfield and again a matter of inches would have been different saw the Orioles regain the lead with 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Dragons then went quietly in the 9th. Despite the loss the game is a reflection on how far the Dragons have come over the last 2 years under the leadership of Ben Utting. A finals spot is still not out of the question.
Game Two - Tuesday 27 January 2015
Doncaster 5 Blackburn 5
The sun caused issues for outfielders, while spectators complained about the cold. And this time last year it was 40 degrees. This must be Melbourne!
And if the weather wasn't weird enough, the result of the game between Doncaster and Blackburn on Tuesday night was equally unlikely. The Dragons played out their first tie of the season, a 5-5 result against the top team in the eastern division.
As is usually the case in such close contests, both teams will say they had opportunities to win. But after out-hitting their opponents 10-5, the Dragons have more reason to lament one that got away.
It's a measure of how well Luke Westphal has pitched this season that an outing in which he threw six innings for just two earned runs was considered below par. Most pitchers would be thrilled to have such a quality start, but by Westphal's standards it was a less-than-stellar performance, with five strikeouts well below his season average.
With the lead-off hitter reaching base in each of the first three innings, the Dragons created scoring opportunities. But Blackburn starter Adrian Berka induced two double-play ground balls and a pop-up to escape damage. Blackburn, meanwhile, scored three unearned runs in the first three innings to take what looked to be a stranglehold on the game.
But Doncaster hit back hard in the fourth inning. Ben Utting led off with a double, helped by the setting sun that blinded the Blackburn centre fielder. Brendan McDonald followed with his second walk of the game, then Michael Mazzocato drove in the Dragons' first run with a single. Two outs later, Dennis Ward smashed a triple to score McDonald, then Andrew Reeves singled to put his team in front 4-3.
After Blackburn had retaken the lead with two runs in the bottom of the fourth, the Dragons again hit back in the fifth. McDonald's two-out single was followed by another triple, this time from Mazzocato, to tie the score.
The Dragons could not add to the lead in the sixth, giving Blackburn a chance to win if they could muster a late rally. But Westphal produced a perfect 1-2-3 inning to end the game.
The spate of away games continues on Saturday as the Dragons travel to Cheltenham.
- John McDonald