MERRIVALE all-rounder Josh Stapleton has a good memory.
With reigning premier West Warrnambool needing 30 runs to win with four wickets and 14 overs in hand, the batsman/wicketkeeper who urged his captain to relieve him of the gloves a few weeks ago, squeezed a full ball under the blade of Panthers hitter Anthony Hawken to bowl him.
“A couple of years ago he hit me for six to win the game,” Stapleton told The Standard.
“I hadn’t forgotten — it was stuck in the back of my mind.
“I knew I couldn’t pitch it up, it had to be full.”
The next ball he had Alex O’Connor trapped in front for a golden duck.
While youngster Will Mills negotiated the hat-trick ball, Stapleton in his next over had him caught behind by young keeper Tom Ludeman for a duck.
In the space of eight balls, Stapleton had turned the game on its head with 3-0.
With West reeling at 9-118, Simon Johnson (21 not out) and number 11 Corey McDonald (11) batted for nine overs.
They scrounged their side towards an improbable victory before McDonald edged a ball from English medium pacer Will Chapples to Ludeman as they fell eight runs short of victory with just 13 balls remaining.
Stapleton was the match-winner, claiming 4-23 from 14 overs, a day after he top-scored in Merrivale’s 146 with 40 opening the innings.
“I’m just happy to do what I can for the team,” he said.
He played down his role, saying his fellow bowlers stuck to their plans.
Captain Michael Walsh was delighted with the result — a far cry from his side’s heavy semi-final loss to the Panthers a year earlier.
“I don’t know if words can (describe it),” he said yesterday.
“It was a really good effort by the 12 blokes, the bowlers were sensational. Young Michael Petherick (1-26) and Adam Melville (2-37) started it off.
“The game kept changing, West got on top, then we got on top and then West got on top again.”
He said he was disappointed with Merrivale’s 146 on Saturday, especially after Stapleton and Richard McKellar put on a 63-run opening partnership.
“I went home fuming. I thought we got off to a great start and we let it slip,” Walsh said.
‘‘We should have made more.
“But statistics don’t lie, 140 has won a lot of semi-finals in the last decade.
“I knew we just had to hang in there and hold on.
“Tom Ludeman was good behind the stumps.”
Walsh said a key to the win had been his side’s catching — taking every chance offered by West.
“It’s a huge confidence boost (for next week).
“They have probably had a bit of a hoo doo over us, we haven’t beaten them for a while, not since I have been coaching.
Walsh said there were times yesterday when he wished he had more runs on the board and predicted that would be a focus leading into Saturday’s grand final where his side is chasing the club’s first premiership since 1999.
West Warrnambool skipper Ben Dobson, who top-scored for his side with 48, was disapp ointed with the result. He and veteran Leigh Johnson (17) had seemingly rescued the Panthers, taking them from 3-30 to 3-79.
“When we look at it, we would have loved to have batted first with the outfield the way it was,” he said.
“They got off to a good start with the bat and we were playing catch up for the rest of the day.
“Our bowlers fought back well but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.
“The Reid Oval is such a big, slow oval, there is not many boundaries hit.
“If the bowlers get early wickets, you know it’s going to be hard work.
“I’m disappointed but proud of the boys, they never gave up.”
Dobson said yesterday West had a good crop of youngsters and was in a good position for next season.