FIRST and fourth places on the ladder will come down to a tantalising final round of Warrnambool and District Association division one matches on Saturday.
Defending premier West Warrnambool leapt to the top of the table with an outright win before tea against East Warrnambool-YCW on Saturday, replacing Dennington, which suffered a shock loss to Allansford.
While the Dogs slipped to second, they face West Warrnambool in a blockbuster on Saturday at Dennington.
Fifth-placed Russells Creek took just 50 overs to skittle Nestles for 87, leaving just five sides in the hunt for a semi-final berth. Creek now faces Merrivale in a fourth-place showdown on Saturday at Jetty Flat.
Merrivale consolidated fourth spot with a big win over Wesley-CBC but the victory could be more valuable than just the points.
A shortage of bowling options prompted skipper Michael Walsh to throw the ball to the competition’s leading run-scorer Josh Stapleton, relieving him of his wicketkeeping duties.
Stapleton responded with a match-winning 6-34 from 16 wickets as the Beavers were dismissed for 114 in the 50th over chasing Merrivale’s 6-250.
Stapleton revealed bowling had always been part of his armoury but injuries to the club’s wicketkeeper had seen him inherit the clubs through necessity.
But youngsters Otto Opperman and Tom Ludeman who both ‘keepers.
“I used to open the bowling when I first started,” the 21-year-old Stapleton said.
He said he was keen to keep bowling.
“Nugget (Walsh) indicated that (on Saturday), ‘it looks like you will be putting the gloves away’,” Stapleton said.
“We have three ‘keepers, I would rather bowl, that gives us an extra option.”
It is an option he hopes Melbourne Country Week skipper Brett Eldridge might use this week.
“We have enough bowlers in the squad though,” he said of his representative duties.
Stapleton said his side had a simple equation in the final round — win to secure a finals berth.
Russells Creek skipper Nathan Divall was delighted his side had kept its finals hopes alive with the win over Nestles.
“Finals start a week early,” he said of Saturday’s cut-throat encounter.
He said his bowlers led the way, restricting the scoring and building pressure on the Factory’s big three — skippers Scott Kelly (13), Cam Williams (27) and Eldridge (17), who were the only players to score double figures.
“As a group we bowled to our plans,” he said.
Creek then went in search of crucial bonus points in the second innings but crumbled to be 7-45.
“We really wanted to bat and make a decent score but we weren’t really switched on. We were aiming for 100 runs off the last 20 overs but we didn’t give ourselves the best chance to do that so we thought we have a bowl and try and get some more points.”
But Nestles negotiated the spell without losing a wicket.
West Warrnambool skipper Ben Dobson said the Panthers’ outright win achieved before tea wasn’t as good as it could have been.
After pushing their lead to 99 for the loss of eight wickets, the Panthers, through Corey McDonald (4-34) and Simon Johnson (3-10) dismissed the Broncos for 93. Johnson finished the match with 8-29.
“There is definitely room for improvement,” Dobson said.
“It was a really good result but we can’t afford to have those lapses against top sides where we dropped a couple of catches because they can score quickly. They were tough chances but you hope to take them.”
Port Fairy skipper Aaron Williams was celebrating a tough win over Nirranda.
Chasing Port’s 185, Nirranda almost produced one of the comebacks of the seasons, rallying from 8-114, to get to 178, just eight runs short of victory.
Spearhead Mark Jones was the hero for the Pirates, finishing with 4-48, including the last four wickets to fall.
“We fought hard and we got there in the end,” Williams said. “It was hard to get those last couple of wickets.”
Woodford consolidated its grip on third place with a big win over Brierly Christ Church. Chasing 170 for victory, the Bulls, resuming at 1-12, were bowled out for 87.