BENDIGO United and Eaglehawk will both enter the Bendigo District Cricket Association premiership decider at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on the back of dominant semi-final victories at the weekend.
The Hawks defeated their long-time finals nemesis, Strathdale-Maristians, by eight wickets in a game that was over 22 minutes into Sunday.
However, Bendigo United didn’t require Sunday’s second day to book its berth in the grand final after beating Kangaroo Flat on Saturday.
The Redbacks spoiled the Roos’ return to the finals for the first time in nine years with an eight-wicket belting at Champions IGA Oval as they again dismissed Kangaroo Flat cheaply for the second week in a row.
The semi-final lasted just a tick over 72 overs as the Roos capitulated for a paltry 88 after winning the toss and batting, before the Redbacks recovered from a dicey start to post 2-92.
The Redbacks’ run-chase – only their second of the season after skipper Leigh McDermott lost a rare toss – started poorly when opener Mark Di Fede (0) was caught and bowled by Roos’ captain Brent Hamblin first ball of the innings.
Three balls later Hamblin (2-21 off six) bowled dangerman Ben Gunn (0) to leave the Redbacks 2-0 after four deliveries.
But that would be it for the Roos as Clayton Holmes and Heath Behrens – after a cautious start given the precarious situation – steered Bendigo United to victory.
Holmes was the aggressor of the pair with a hard-hitting 63 n.o. off 59 balls that featured seven boundaries and three sixes, one of which landed on the Kangaroo Flat Sports Club roof.
Behrens – playing in his 15th-straight semi-final – finished unbeaten on 29 off 73, hitting the winning runs with a boundary off Dylan Gibson (0-8) in the 23rd over.
Earlier, only two Kangaroo Flat batsmen – Jake Klemm (27 off 48) and Tyler Hinds (22 off 66) – got to double figures in the Roos’ tally of 88, which came seven days after they had been bowled out for 87 by Bendigo United in round 13.
The Redbacks never let up on the inexperienced Roos – who had only Adam Burns and Liam Jones having played a first XI final – as Miggy Podosky and Holmes combined for seven wickets.
Podosky took his career tally of finals wickets to 38 with 4-10 off 11.5 overs, starting the rot for the Roos when he had Daniel Barber (0) trapped lbw in the third over.
Holmes snared 3-20 off 10 overs, at one stage having 3-3 after dismissing Gibson (7) – superbly caught by Behrens at slip – Klemm and Burns (3) in quick succession during a period in which the Roos fell from 2-37 to 6-45.
With their victory, the Redbacks are through to their ninth grand final in the past 15 seasons, while for the Roos, it was a steep learning curve to end what has been a season of vast improvement.
• Eaglehawk’s bowlers set up its victory over Strathdale-Maristians at Canterbury Park.
The Suns were bowled out for their lowest first innings total since 2009-10 when they were skittled for 113 after winning the toss and batting on Saturday.
The Hawks – who had lost their previous four finals against Strathdale-Maristians over the past seven years – had been under the pump early after opener Sam Johnston got the Suns away to a flyer with the bat.
Johnston raced to 26, with his first six scoring shots 4, 4, 4, 6, 4 and 4.
He particularly took to Hawks’ skipper Cory Jacobs, who had 22 blasted off his first two overs.
However, the Hawks got the breakthrough when Johnston (33 off 27) was brilliantly caught one-handed by Josh Collinson at third slip off Richard Tibbett with the score on 39 in the 11th over.
And from there the rest of the day was dominated by the Hawks.
When Jack Neylon (0) and Andrew Hosking (6) departed soon after Johnston, the Suns were 3-42, with Tibbett having figures at that stage of 3-16 in his eighth over.
By tea the Suns had fought their way to 5-83 with the experienced pair of Cameron Taylor and captain Linton Jacobs at the crease.
But the introduction of Andrew Smith into the Hawks’ attack in the first over after tea heaped more pressure onto the Suns.
In his first over Smith had Jacobs (6) caught at gully by Matt Ford off a top-edged pull shot and shortly after bowled Taylor (14).
Smith later dismissed Dylan Bailie (3) to end the innings with 3-4 off eight overs, while Tibbett continued his consistent form of the second half of the season with 4-41 off 17 overs.
As well as his three early wickets, Tibbett also removed Adrian Pappin (2), who was well caught by a diving Cory Jacobs at cover.
Jacobs finished with 2-40 off 16.5 overs, while Cam McGlashan gave little away in his 1-19 off 14 overs, including eight maidens and taking the big finals scalp of Ben DeAraugo (10).
With 19 overs to bat before stumps, the Hawks raced their way to 1-78, with the aggressive Smith putting the Suns to the sword.
Smith ended day one on 56 off 58, although, he did have some luck.
When Smith was on 47 a Ryan Haythorpe (0-16) delivery hit the stumps, but the bails didn’t dislodge, and two balls later he was caught behind off a no-ball.
Smith didn’t muck around on Sunday in continuing the Hawks’ path to victory.
He added another 25, including four boundaries and one six, off 14 before he nicked Bailie (1-6) and was caught by keeper Linton Jacobs for 81 off 72.
Left-hander Shane Murcoch (23 n.o.) and McGlashan (2 n.o.) finished the job for the Hawks, who took 7.1 overs on Sunday to surpass the Suns as they reached 2-116 to secure their position in their second grand final in a row.
For the beaten Suns, it’s just the second time in the past nine years they won’t be playing in the grand final.