THE crucial Emu Valley Cricket Association clash between United and Marong is evenly poised following the first day of the final round on Saturday.
In a match pitting two sides vying for a finals berth at Ewing Park, the Panthers went to stumps at 2-23 after it had earlier bowled well to dismiss United for 204.
Scott Ross (5) and Thomas Huf (2) are the batsmen out for the fifth-placed Marong, which must win to be any chance of making the finals.
Andrew Gaul (2-7) has both the wickets for United.
Earlier, Duane Anderson and captain Jeremy Ross were both in fine form with the ball for Marong as they combined for nine wickets.
Anderson snared 5-40 off 11.5 overs, while Ross followed up his seven-for last round against Golden Gully with 4-46 off 17 overs.
It was a dismal-looking batting card for United, apart from the efforts of the Collins' brothers - Alex and Andrew - and Luke Kairn.
Alex Collins (69) posted his first half-century of the season for the Tigers, Kairn made 57, while Andrew Collins continued his impressive form with 44.
Apart from Michael Frilay's 13, no other player made double figures for the Tigers, who had four players dismissed for ducks.
At one stage United lost 3-1, crashing from 2-71 to 5-72, and later lost 4-7 to fall from 6-197 to all out for 204.
In between those collapses, Alex Collins and Kairn put on 102 for the sixth wicket.
• Golden Gully will defend a score of 249 against West Bendigo at California Gully in a match featuring first against third.
The Cobras' score was built around contributions from Nathan Hamblin (59), captain Brendon Lummis (54), Nathan Shatwell (47) and Jeremy Rogerson (41).
Hamblin's 59 was his second half-century in a row.
The Cobras looked on track for a score of at least 300 when they were 3-217, but they fell away, losing their last seven wickets for just 32 runs.
Boe Bish was brilliant with the ball for West Bendigo taking 3-7 off 7.4 overs, while Dale Warren (3-44) also took three wickets.
• Spring Gully was bundled out for just 126 by Sedgwick at Club Court.
Opening bowler Zac Poole led the Rams' attack with 5-28 off 12 overs, while veteran Scott McKenzie was his usual consistent self with the ball, taking 3-9 off seven overs.
The Crows dramatically capitulated late in their innings as they crashed from 5-117 to all out for 126 as the batting woes that have plagued them for most of the season continued.
Captain Jayden Mannix (42) was the best of the Spring Gully batsmen, while Jarrod Harris added 30 batting at No.7.
Sedgwick went to stumps at 3-60 off 22 overs.
Among the wickets to fall was that of in-form Sedgwick opener Damien Coppock, who after making scores of 81, 60 and 67 his previous three innings was bowled by Des Gilmore for nine.
Sam Alcock (20 n.o.) and Poole (12 n.o.) will continue the run-chase for Sedgwick this Saturday.
Meanwhile, Spring Gully's disappointing batting performance capped off what will now be a wasted round for the Crows across all their grades.
Spring Gully won't be playing for any points this round in any division and is likely to face a fine after breaking an EVCA by-law.
Spring Gully forfeited its division three game against Sedgwick on Saturday, rather than its lower-grade division four team.
Under EVCA laws, if a club is to forfeit team, it must be its lowest grade.
Teams playing against Spring Gully this round will now receive the maximum points earned from any team in their division.
• Axe Creek's batsmen have given the Cowboys the chance of ending the season with a victory against Mandurang at Champions IGA Oval.
The Cowboys made 8-257 on the back of some lower-order rearguard action.
The Cowboys had been 7-151, but Rob Fisher and Ash Dixon led the revival with an 83-run stand for the eighth wicket.
Fisher top-scored for the Cowboys with 88, while Dixon finished unbeaten on 50.
Following his partnership with Fisher, Dixon added 23 more runs for the ninth wicket with Jacob Edgar (8 n.o.).
Charles Ready (45) and opener David Cannings (30) also helped the Cowboys post their equal highest score of the season.
Mandurang used 10 bowlers, with Geoff McLean (3-41) the leading wicket-taker.
• A six-wicket haul from Maiden Gully's Brett Haw helped the bottom side restrict Emu Creek to 251 at JG Edwards Oval.
Haw dominated for the Gully, bagging 6-54 off 14.3 overs, with his scalps including the top-order wickets of Brad Rowe (46), Shaun Cattanach (66), Tim Hobbs (0) and Simon Marwood (14).
Maiden Gully fought back superbly with the ball after the Emus had been 1-162 during their innings.
Captain Daniel Chamberlain (31), Rowe and Cattanach all helped get the fourth-placed Emus off to a strong start, before their last nine wickets fell for 89 runs.
Cattanach's 66 continued his good form in which he has now made 201 runs his past three innings.
Andrew Harris added 33 late in the innings for the Emus, who entered the final round just 5.4 points clear of the fifth-placed Marong.