Butchers captain Jackson Stewart says his side will head into this season's Cricket Illawarra finals full of confidence after being crowned minor premiers on Saturday.
Northern Districts sat in second place heading into the last round of the first-grade competition, but came from the clouds to secure the silverware after thrashing Corrimal, while ladder leaders Wollongong were toppled by University.
Third-placed Keira also outclassed Balgownie on Saturday, setting up an intriguing opening week of finals. The Butchers will meet the Magpies next Saturday, while the Lighthouse Keepers will host the Lions in the other semi-final.
Stewart told the Mercury that he was pleasantly surprised that his team claimed the minor premiership.
"We didn't really expect it at the start of the day, it just sort of happened without us realising. I don't think it matters a whole lot, it's more about finishing in the top two. But we'll take it," the skipper said.
"I think it's just a bit of reward for consistency, more than anything. And the comp this year has a lot more even, where teams are losing games that they shouldn't necessary lose. And most of the time, I think we've been relatively consistent."
Northern Districts earned the title after claiming a seven-wicket victory over Corrimal at Ziems Park.
The Cougars batted first and were rolled for just 64, which the visitors chased down in the 27th over for the loss of three wickets.
Stewart said the win was set up by a strong bowling effort, and he was particularly pleased by English import Jack Plum's performance.
"Jack is coming into his own a little bit. He's easing into his bowling a bit more and finding some rhythm," he said.
"But, as usual, I was really happy with our spinners. Jono Fowles, Isaac Warburton and Bailey Leadbitter were excellent as always."
The Butchers' attention will now shift to their semi-final clash with Balgownie, who suffered a 94-run defeat to Keira on Saturday.
The Lions batted first at Judy Masters Oval and mustered 8/180, with Mitch Hearn top-scoring with 60, while Adam Berwick picked up four wickets.
In reply, the Magpies' innings never truly got going, despite a fighting 31 from Graeme Batty. Ryan Cattle led Keira's attack with 4/17, while Neel Honovar and Troy Coleman combined for five wickets.
Despite the defeat, Stewart said his team wouldn't underestimate the Magpies.
"That Balgownie team is strong, they've got some good players who have won a lot of comps in the past and know how to play finals cricket. So it's going to be a massive challenge," he said.
"Graeme Batty, (Rob) Fisher and (Adam) Berwick have scored a lot of runs for a long time, so I think the key to the game will be containing them as much as possible."
In Saturday's other first-grade results, University secured a thrilling six-run win over the Lighthouse Keepers; the Canaries beat Helensburgh by three wickets; and Wests defeated Port Kembla by five wickets.
While Wollongong missed out on the first-grade minor title, the club's second and third grade sides sealed the silverware. The Illawarra Passionate Cricketers Club were crowned fourth-grade minor premiers.
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