SHEPPARTON South has completed a remarkable first season in the Bendigo Amateur Soccer League by winning Sunday’s grand final against Eaglehawk.
Played at Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve, South had to come from 1-nil down early in extra time to score a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Scores were tied nil-all at the end of regulation time.
Eaglehawk was chasing the championship-grand final double after it finished two points clear of its grand final rival in the regular season.
The Hawks struck first in extra time, when Ben Ingerson converted from a penalty awarded to his coach Greg Thomas.
Their lead was a short-lived one when just minutes later an own goal levelled the scores for Shepparton South.
The grand final featured the league’s two leading goal scorers in Thomas and Joel Aitken and it was the Shepparton South sharpshooter, who gave his side the lead early in the second period of extra time.
South defended stoutly in the dying minutes as an injury-riddled Hawks looked to surge, but the league newcomers were able to hold their nerve and post a hard-fought win.
In the moments after the final whistle, supporters rushed the field as players embraced before they launched into a rendition of the club song.
Aitken, whose 37th goal for the season proved the difference, said the win went part of the way to making amends for a grand final loss on penalties to Shepparton United in their former league last season.
“We were still hurting from last year – we finished top three years in a row, but we finally got the big prize,” he said.
“It was pretty scrappy in the first half, there was not a lot of chances for both sides, but it could have went either way, small details decided the result and we’re just happy to be on the right side of it.”
“But congratulations to Eaglehawk, they won the championship – it was fitting, I think, that we both won a cup each in the end.”
Aitken, who was joint coach of South alongside Nathan Radevski, said winning a grand final in the club’s first season in the league had been a dream come true.
“BASL has been really welcoming – we love it – it feels like we are in a real league now,” he said.
“Our league was falling to bits a bit at the end, so it’s been great having Shepparton and Bendigo come together.
“Hopefully that continues well into the future.”
Hawks coach Thomas said his side had been brave in defeat and had simply run out of fit bodies.
Already without star midfielder Nathan Hamblin, the Hawks lost Riley Hayton with an injury in the warm-up.
Their hopes nosedived further when Andre Latt left the field with a hamstring injury in the first half.
“It was pretty disappointing, but take nothing away from Shepparton South, they’re a very good side,” he said.
“I thought it was a pretty even game, but without making excuses, we just ran out of bodies.
“It was an up-hill battle, but to the boys’ credit they fought and fought and fought against a very good side.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the boys, to go to extra time.
“It could have went either way, but congratulations to Shepparton South.
“At the end we won the championship and that’s what we set out to do at the start of the year, this (grand final) was just a bonus.”
Meanwhile, Shepparton United claimed the women’s division championship-grand final double with an emphatic 6-0 win over Epsom.
Strathdale did likewise in the men’s division two, capping an undefeated season with a 2-1 win against Shepparton United.
It was the Blues’ fourth championship win in a row, but the first time in that period they have secured the double.
A penalty conversion in the 93rd minute from Blues skipper Justin Sartori sealed the win.
Blues coach Rhys Clayton there was no doubt the inclusion of former Shepparton league teams had made championships and grand finals harder to win.
“But credit to the boys, that’s an undefeated season,” he said.
“We’ve had a few draws, but we haven’t lost a game this year.
“It’s a real reward for them. That double was a real focus.
“After winning the championship, getting the boys back on track and making sure we got this done as well was the aim.”
Epsom won the youth grand final 4-1, aided by a double to Alexander Caldow.