Dragons clip Eagles wings

The Doncaster Dragons were rewarded for dogged persistence with a hard-earned win in extra innings at Sunshine on Saturday.

In  seriously hot conditions, the Dragons twice came from behind, tying the game in the ninth inning on  a sacrifice fly by Marcel D’Avoine and then winning it in the 12th after Brendan McDonald had scored on a wild pitch.

Hits were hard to come by, but the Dragons made up for that by taking a season-high 11 walks. And with four other batters getting hit by pitches, there was no shortage of Doncaster base-runners. But not for the first time this season, the Dragons failed to turn many of those base-runners into runs, missing several opportunities in the early innings to build a lead.

Desperate to climb of the bottom of the ladder, the Eagles sent import Chris Prokupek to the mound. The Dragons pounced on him early, with lead-off hitter Javan Williams starting the game with a double. No one could have known it then, but it was to be the only extra-base hit of the game. Williams advanced to third on D’Avoine’s infield hit and scored on a sacrifice fly by Callum Lethborg to give Doncaster a 1-0 lead.

The Dragons threatened to build on that lead when they loaded the bases in the third inning on consecutive singles by Ben Utting, D’Avoine and Lethborg. But Prokupek made some quality pitches to end the threat and keep the score at 1-0.

Doncaster starting pitcher Rhys Hopper was faultless through the first three innings but ran into trouble after that, allowing two runs in the fourth and another in the fifth as the home team took a 3-1 lead.

But things turned around in the seventh, which looked likely to be unproductive when there were two outs and nobody on base. Then Mitch Ellis was hit by a pitch, Williams walked, and Scott  Carr was hit by a pitch to load the bases. After Ellis had scored on a wild pitch, Utting then delivered the key hit of the day, a two-run single that gave his team a 4-3 lead.

Although hitless for the day, Ellis twice saved Doncaster from potential defeat. A nifty inning-ending double play erased a threat in the seventh inning, and in the ninth he cut down what would have been the winning run with a perfect throw home.

Reliever Dave Miller pitched a scoreless seventh inning before handing over to workhorse Steele Ratcliffe, who put in another magnificent effort but conceded two unearned runs in the eighth inning.

After D’Avoine’s sacrifice fly had sent the game into overtime, it settled into a pitchers’ duel between Ratcliffe and Sunshine’s Adam Irons, who each pitched flawlessly in the 10th and 11th innings.

In the 12th, McDonald led off with his third walk of the day, went to third on a couple of groundouts, then scored on a rare wild pitch by Irons.

Needing a scoreless bottom of the 12th to ice the game, Ratcliffe produced exactly that with a minimum of fuss, getting three quick outs to give the Dragons a hard-earned victory.

Having played Sunshine twice for two wins, the Dragons have a chance to complete a season sweep of the Eagles when they two teams meet at Altona on Tuesday night.