It was closer than captain Blake Small would have liked but Gunnedah have moved through to the Connolly Cup final following a close finish against Armidale at Wolseley Park on Sunday.
“I’m stoked,” was Small’s response to the win.
“It’s a good bunch of blokes. I can't really explain the feeling at the moment.”
Chasing 96 runs for victory, a Gunnedah victory looked like a formality with the home side cruising at 2-76 before a flurry of wickets blew the game wide open.
All of a sudden, Gunnedah fell to be 8-84 and 12 runs turned into a giant task.
Small came to the rescue to grind his way to eight runs not out alongside Darrin Cameron (4*) and get Gunnedah over the line.
While Small said the ball “kept low” throughout the match, the collapse puzzled the captain.
“Very unusual. Especially with the batting side we had. To collapse like that..we really didn't deserve to win it after that. They bowled well, too,” Small said.
It was apt that Small was out in the middle to finish the game after he ripped through Armidale’s batting lineup.
Armidale had been put in a good position following starts from Jarrod Burton (15) and Benji Marshall (12).
Armidale were 4-49 before Small started his spree.
The captain claimed 6-24 from eight overs to have Armidale all out for 95 as Braydon Cameron (25) fought hard in the middle order.
Small said he never expected to bag six and was quick to praise his team.
“The boys fielded well. Most of them [wickets] were catches so it was a team effort,” Small said.
Batting highlights for Gunnedah came from opening pair Kaleb McIlveen (27) and Ryan Cooper (21) while Shane Riordan made 13 runs before becoming one of the wickets in the collapse.
Dylan Yeomans (3-7) kick-started the collapse with the prized wicket of McIlveen before Sean Skinner (3-24) and John Elliott (2-44) struck to resurrect Armidale further.
While it wasn’t to be for Armidale, wicketkeeper Will Green was full of praise for the young charges in the Armidale side.
“The young fellas stepped up,” Green said.
“There’s a lot of young guys bowling. Johnny Elliott is probably our oldest bowler and he’s 27.
“There’s [Braydon] Cameron, I don’t think he’s 18 yet. Sean Skinner who’s only 19, and [Dylan] Yeomans is in his mid-20s.”
Green also said the pitch played a part in the match.
“On the southern side, it stayed a lot lower and there wasn't a lot of carry,” Green said.
“It was a bit all over the place.
“Up the other side it was shooting up off a good length – it wasn't a great day to be a keeper.”
Gunnedah will face Pilliga in the final.
Pilliga beat Gwydir by seven wickets after chasing the 109 runs required in the other semi final.
Dylan Smith (3-13) was the pick of the bowlers for Pilliga while Daniel Hamilton (36) top-scored for the winners.