TWO outright victories and a well-timed run chase have reshaped the Warrnambool and District Cricket Association top four as competition for finals berths heats up.
In a dramatic round nine, defending premier West Warrnambool jumped from third to second by running down Merrivale’s 208 with six overs to spare and fourth-placed Woodford leapt to third with an unlikely outright triumph over Port Fairy.
Those two results caused Merrivale to slip from second to fourth and within reach of fifth-placed Russells Creek.
Last season’s grand finalist, Nestles, also scored an outright win, giving it a mathematical chance of playing finals despite being eighth with two rounds remaining.
The Factory’s post-Christmas surge up the ladder gathered momentum on Saturday as star all-rounder Brett Eldridge delivered with both bat and ball.
After winning first innings points last Saturday, Nestles (8-87 declared) was chasing bonus points against Wesley-CBC (74) when the Beavers resumed at 0-14 in their second innings.
But Eldridge ripped through the Beavers batting line-up taking 6-26 off 17.4 overs as Wesley-CBC was dismissed for 85. Only Bevan Stokie made double figures, setting Nestles 73 for outright victory.
The Factory suffered a similar fate with only Eldridge making double figures (44) as they reached the target with just three wickets in hand.
The knock capped a fine game for Eldridge, who made an unbeaten 40 in the first innings. He finished with match figures of 9-40 with the ball and 84 runs for the once out.
Eldridge said the scores didn’t reflect the wicket.
“It just got in the minds of the batsmen,” he said.
“It was lively but it was nowhere near the result.
“It was a slower wicket (Saturday) after the rain but it was the kind of wicket you never felt in on.”
He said he enjoyed bowling at Walter Oval and revealed he had never had a 10-wicket match haul.
“It is pleasing to be getting wickets with the ball. The way I’ve been bowling has been a lot more aggressive.
“Other years it’s been more about containment.”
Eldridge said he was delighted his side had started putting together good performances.
“For (co-coaches) Cam Williams and Scott Kelly they have been working hard and to see them get some results for all the work they are putting in is pleasing,” he said.
The result sets up a big game starting on Saturday between Nestles and Russells Creek, with the winner a chance to make the finals and the loser out of the race.
Buoyed by its $15,000 win in last week’s T20 cup, Woodford scored an outright win over Port Fairy.
The Eels (9-247) dismissed Port for 108 in just 36.2 overs on Saturday with Nick Butters (4-14) and Jake McKinnon (3-28) doing the damage.
Coach John Houston said the Eels had a lengthy discussion about what was best — bat again or bowl again in search of bonus points.
“If we could get another five wickets that’s equivalent to 100 runs in terms of bonus points,” Houston said. “Are we going to make another 100 runs, probably not. We thought we have more of a chance of getting bonus points bowling.”
He said the Eels never considered an outright win.
Despite an early wicket, Houston felt his bowlers weren’t attacking the stumps enough in the second innings and turned back the clock to his youth and brought himself on.
Bowling off-spin, he grabbed 5-5 from seven overs to tear the heart of the Pirates’ line-up as they were dismissed for 99, giving Woodford an innings and 40-run win.
The win took the Eels within four points of second-placed West Warrnambool.
“If we are going to be a force in the finals, we need to be pressing for a top-two spot. We are looking forward not back.”
West Warrnambool captain Ben Dobson (68) and veteran Leigh Johnson (54 not out) guided the Panthers beyond Merrivale’s challenging target of 208 with overs and six wickets to spare.
Dobson said his side had focused on keeping wickets in hand.
“I knew if we had plenty of wickets after tea we would get the runs,” he said.
“After tea we needed three runs an over and we didn’t need to take many risks.”
He said the Panthers were eyeing top spot with a clash in the final round against ladder-leader Dennington on the horizon.
East Warrnambool-YCW had tongues wagging on Saturday as it loomed as a chance for an outright against Allansford.
After the Gators took first innings points by dismissing East 38 runs short of the target, the Broncos hit back.
They had Allansford 5-11 in the second innings but the charge was halted by Brett Membrey and Simon Rea. East’s Jason Alberts (3-38) and Michael Townsend (4-33) were again the stars with the ball. The haul gave Alberts the remarkable match figures of 10-100.
Top side Dennington (194) defeated Brierly Christ Church (154), while Russells Creek (5-210) closed in on the four with a successful chase against Nirranda (166).