Northern Districts captain Rhys Marsh is confident his team will be ready for finals cricket after they overcame Wests in an intense affair on Saturday.
Defending 204, the Butchers bowled tight, consistent lines to tie down the Devils batsmen before breaking the game open either side of tea.
Dangerous batsmen Udara Jayasundara and Tylar Edwards both fell shortly before the break, to leave the Devils five down at tea and the Butchers made short work of the tail upon the resumption to bowl Wests out for 132.
With Keira defeating Wollongong, the 72-run victory helped the Butchers extend their lead at the top of the table and Marsh viewed the match as important preparation for the finals.
“It was a really tough game,” Marsh said. “The boys reacted well to what was not a great start and turned it around. It was the hit out we needed to have before the finals.
“When Udara was out there, the boys stepped up. The level of cricket out there at that stage was impressive. Someone flicked a switch, everyone turned up and we played some really hard cricket.”
The Butchers have been starved of first-grade success in recent years, with the side making just one finals appearance in the last 16 years.
That lone finals berth came in 2017 and saw the Butchers eliminated without a ball being bowled, with their match against Balgownie washed out.
Given the lack of finals experience, Marsh has pondered how his side will fare once the finals roll around in mid-March. Saturday’s performance against a desperate Wests at Figtree Oval went some way to allay those concerns.
“In terms of first grade finals experience, Joe McDevitt has played a fair bit with other clubs and Matt Salakas has won a one-day comp with first grade. We’ve got lots of second grade experience, but barely any first grade finals experience, which is hard, but it is what it is.
“That made Saturday a good test for us. I wasn’t sure how we’d respond, but everyone was up for it. Udara came out and looked good, and the boys just responded excellently.
“The fielding lifted, we were cutting off singles, keeping him on strike and eventually he got frustrated. It was really impressive.”
The scorecard indicates Jono Fowles and Tom Hartley were the pick of the bowlers, with Fowles claiming five scalps and Hartley three wickets and nine maidens.
To Marsh, however, Fowles and Hartley were simply the beneficiaries of a collective effort.
“All our bowlers bowled excellently. Jono got the wickets at the end, but Joseph McDevitt was excellent, really tight, he was confident and wanted to keep bowling, even when it was tough. Tom is always good, if he’s at one end, we just need to tie down the other end and we can play the patience game.
“It wasn’t just Jono and Tom, it was a massive effort by everyone. Even the quicks, they struggled early but pulled it back and were great towards the end.”
In other matches this weekend, Helensburgh kept their slim finals hopes alive with a comfortable victory over Dapto.
Brothers Mitch and Hayden McCrae combined for a 119-run partnership to help the side chase the Canaries 146 with eight wickets to spare. A declaration followed soon after, however Dapto batted well to prevent an outright defeat.
Wollongong’s much vaunted batting lineup was blown apart by Troy Coleman, with the Keira bowler taking seven wickets to lead his side to an 82-run victory and help solidify the Lions place inside the top four.
Corrimal maintained their loose grip on the final playoff place, bowling University out for 146 to claim a 59-run victory. Captain Xavier McDevitt claimed four wickets, while Kyle Trebel finished with three.
And Balgownie maintained the pressure on Corrimal by defeating Port Kembla on Saturday. Adam Berwick scored 90* to guide the Magpies past Port Kembla’s 141, however their bid for an outright victory was denied.