After the Doncaster Dragons’ impressive and exciting win over Cheltenham on Saturday, the toughest task was trying to decide who should be named Bendigo Bank Player of the Game.
There were several potential candidates. Andrew Mazzocato, who had earlier singled, stolen a base and scored a run, drove in the winning run in the 11th inning as the Dragons ended an unwelcome losing streak to beat the highly rated Rustlers 5-4.
Mazzocato’s walk-off single drove in Javan Williams, who had tied the game five innings earlier with a home run to rightfield - only Doncaster’s second homer of the season - and had put himself in position to score the winning run by reaching on a bunt and stealing second. Surely Williams would get some consideration for the Bendigo Bank Award?
And then there was Steele Ratcliffe, the lion-hearted pitcher who has performed solidly all season and against Cheltenham went a step further, pitching nine innings and restricting the powerful Rustler offence to just four runs. Ratcliffe had only one strikeout, and had base runners in almost every inning, but he made quality pitches at key moments to restrict the damage and keep his team in the game.
In the end, Ratcliffe collected the Bendigo Bank Award, and there were no arguments from his teammates or Dragon fans.
Having lost eight games in a row, the Dragons could have been forgiven if they had gone into this game with a negative attitude. But right from the start they showed a determination to end the streak, and they maintained that attitude throughout the game, despite trailing for most of the contest.
After Cheltenham had taken the lead on a wild pitch in the third inning, the Dragons countered immediately. Mazzocato’s hit and steal were followed by a walk to Nic Unland, plus infield singles by Scott Carr and Ben Utting that gave Doncaster a 2-1 lead.
Even after the powerhouse Cheltenham line-up scored three runs in the fourth, the Dragons did not give up. Marcel D’Avoine led off the bottom of the inning with the first of his two hits for the game, then later scored on Utting’s RBI ground-out.
After that it became a pitchers’ duel, except for Williams’ powerful blast in the sixth inning that tied the game.
Ratcliffe did not allow a run after the fourth inning, and reliever Rhys Hopper did the rest, pitching two innings and allowing three hits but no runs, while striking out two and walking none.
The Rustlers were also well served on the mound, with Ryan Bean and Lachlan Madden doing impressive jobs and adding to the high quality of the game.
Several times this year the Dragons have lost games despite out-hitting the opposition, but this time the roles were reversed as they were out-hit 12-9 but, unlike in previous games, were able to take advantage of opportunities. They also deserve credit for maintaining their focus and finding a way to score the decisive run despite being on the wrong end of a controversial umpiring call when D’Avoine was adjudged to have been picked off at second base.
Can the Dragons turn the losing streak into a winning streak? We’ll find out on Thursday night, when the Bendigo Bank Summer Series continues with a home game against Preston.