A strong pitching performance by a US import and a home run by a former Dragon combined to give Cheltenham the points against Doncaster in the first game of 2014.
American Ryan Bean pitched a complete game and Paul Weichard broke open a tight game in the eighth inning as the Rustlers squared the season series with an 8-2 win.
On a warm and sunny day at Cheltenham, Steele Ratcliffe again took the mound for Doncaster. Ratcliffe gave exactly what the Dragons have come to expect of him – pitching into the fifth inning and keeping the game tight by allowing only one earned run, with two strikeouts and two walks.
The Dragons, with a slightly new-look lineup due to absences common at this time of year, took the early lead. In the second inning, Scott Couling singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild throw by the Cheltenham catcher. He then scored easily on a groundout to second by Andrew Reeves.
It took the Rustlers until the fourth inning to catch up, and the 1-1 tie did not last long as Doncaster reclaimed the lead in the fifth. Brendan McDonald singled, Nic Unland walked and Scott Carr reached on a fielding error by the Cheltenham shortstop, allowing McDonald to score and giving the Dragons a 2-1 lead.
But that lead vanished in the bottom of the fifth inning as Ratcliffe began to strike trouble and was replaced by Andrew Chesterton. Two Cheltenham hits and a Doncaster fielding error later, the Rustlers had taken a 3-2 lead and would not be headed for the rest of the game.
Reliever Rhys Hopper kept the deficit at one by pitching a scoreless sixth and seventh innings, but any hope of a late Doncaster comeback disappeared in the eighth, highlighted by Weichard’s three-run homer that curled around the right field foul pole and put the result beyond doubt.
For Doncaster, Couling had two infield hits and Mitch Ellis had the only extra-base hit of the day, a double to lead off the ninth inning. Andrew Mazzocato, Unland, McDonald and Javan Williams had the only other base hits.
Having already beaten Newport earlier this season, the Dragons have a chance to win the season series when they take on the Rams at Newport next Sunday.