Tech Old Boys have picked up a crucial season crossroads victory with a six wicket win over table neighbour Red Star CC, as the Coastal Challenge Cup resumed on Saturday for just the Whanganui and Wairarapa sides.
Playing their share of the split round from November 16, when only the Horowhenua-Kapiti clubs faced each other, fourth-placed Tech getting the win further cements their playoff chances, while fifth-placed Red Star will now be at long odds to qualify with two games remaining.
Although not without some tension, Tech's ultimately comfortable victory with 17 balls remaining at Victoria Park still leaves them a point behind third-placed Property Brokers United, who made the first of their back-to-back trips to Masterton for a strong batting performance to beat Lansdowne CC by 102 runs.
United and Tech have now closed up to 2-3 points behind second place Paraparaumu, with a game in hand, in their quest to get a home semifinal spot, with unbeaten Levin Old Boys in the clear on top of the standings.
In the derby game at Whanganui Collegiate, Wanganui Vet Services Marist claimed a six wicket win over their younger school brethren, with the wider O'Leary family again represented in both teams.
Despite missing key player Brock Price, Red Star started building an opening partnership with Robbie Anderson (14) and Jake Jonas (17), before representative bowlers Vikum Sanjaya and Akash Gill (2-39) caught up with them.
With the door open, Fraser Kinnerley (5-25, two maidens) picked up where he left off in the previous round on December 21, running through Red Star's middle order to leave them struggling at 67-6.
Kinnerley pitched the ball up to hit the stumps and get two LBW decisions in a match that had to be self-umpired by rotating opposition players, taking his tally to nine wickets in the last two innings.
However, Cole Freeman (70) survived and then dug in, seeing off the last of Kinnerley, while getting support from veteran Peter Sigvertsen (33).
Freeman struck 10 boundaries before finally giving up a catch off Bevan Hunter, having led a recovery at 162-8.
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Sigvertsen then carried on with Quinn Childs (17) to lift their team over the improbable 200 run mark, before Gill and a somewhat frustrated Ross Kinnerley finally got their stumps in the 46th and 47th overs.
A target of 215 represented an awkward challenge, but Sanjaya (58 off 48) had Tech away to a flyer, despite losing opening partner Kashish Nauhria early.
With only four singles there was no ambiguity in Sanjaya's innings, hitting nine fours and two sixes, one of them travelling over the line off a high top edge.
Bowler Quinn Childs was left muttering after his fielder dropped a sitter near the boundary, with Sanjaya then scoring 14 runs over the next four balls.
Sam Sherriff (57 off 96) also got in the act, although his eight boundaries were more classic stroke play, but when Sanjaya was finally caught off Jacob Osborne (2-23, one maiden), Tech's steadily climbing run rate slowed right down.
Gill (22) was happy enough to play risk free to preserve wickets — an issue for Tech this summer in that they don't often follow up one good partnership with another.
Osborne was keeping it in tight and the fielders were cutting off easy singles, and when Gill developed a bad case of leg cramp, the runs dried up further.
He retired hurt and Hunter looked to release the shackles, hitting a boundary, before he fell cheaply to Osborne at 153-3 in the 35th over.
Having raised the remaining runs for his 50 over several overs with singles, Sherriff looked to wind back up again, but lost his stumps to Quinn Childs.
Gill was soon ready to return if required, but skipper Dominic Lock (37 not out) and Ross Kinnerley (22 not out) had it under control, as Osborne finished out and the Tech pair were soon finding quick singles around the track, keeping the run rate in check.
Stefan Hook tried his best to deny the Tech the remaining runs, but with 39 needed from the last 10 overs, Lock and Kinnerley began finding more gaps, ultimately hitting six boundaries between them, to get their side home with breathing room to spare.
United weren't mucking around at Masterton's Queen Elizabeth Park as they were dismissed in the final over after raising 326 – the second highest score this season.
Despite losing Gerard Hobbs and Andre Canderle early off the bowling of Hayden Barrett (2-44), Tom Lance was in aggressive mood, and after taking a few dot balls, plundered 60 off just 31 deliveries, including 11 boundaries and two sixes.
He was joined by Greg Smith (102 off 87), who was in excellent touch with 13 boundaries and two sixes of his own, getting support from Trey Bidois (39) and then Simon Badger (23) to make 300 a near certainly with over 250 on the board before the 38th over.
Twenty-eight wide runs did not help Lansdowne's cause either.
Smith was finally caught off bowler Aaron Bidlake, and the remaining United batsmen were free to have a crack, as Chris Sharrock (22), Brendon Walker (13) and Ryan Slight (16 not out) all had cameos as they tried to bat the home side out of the game.
Jaco Vorster (2-38) and John Ryan (4-72) eventually managed to catch up with them but the damage had been done.
In reply, Lansdowne's top order all built an innings, with Oliver Bunny (41) being the anchor while John Mckenzie (38), Jack Forrester (42) and Robbie Speers (31) were all scoring collectively at nearly a run-a-ball.
United were happy rotating their bowlers in five over spells each, the match still poised at 152-4, but by 195-5 in the 38th over it was looking too far back for the chasing team, even if their tail could fire.
Badger (4-33) returned strong in his second spell, assisted by Chris Sharrock (2-44), as of the remaining Lansdowne's lineup only Hugo Wakeling (26) managed to get going for a time, with the last five wickets falling for 29 runs.
Smith continued his great afternoon with two run outs in the innings.
Although out of contention for retaining their Coastal title, Marist have an important February coming up with the Central Districts finals of the National Club Championship (NCC) and would be pleased a Collegiate team starting to get back to full strength gave them a test.
Collegiate reached 237 before being dismissed in the final over, with Joel Clark (32) getting a start at opener before Harry Godfrey (62) and Shaun O'Leary (59) put on a quickfire 122-run partnership at better than a run-a-ball through the middle of the innings.
Shaun was having to face up to Connor O'Leary (2-38, one maiden) and NCC qualifier last over hero Hadleigh O'Leary (2-21, two maidens), with Hadleigh breaking the partnership while Connor followed up.
Four consecutive catches behind the stumps for returning wicket keeper Mark Fraser, which included Collegiate coach Warren Herbert, saw the school side slump to 200-7.
There was a little wag in the tail through Oscar McVerry (16) surviving 40 balls, partnering with Harvey Meyer (13), but yet another school old boy in Angus Dinwiddie (3-52) helped clean up the last of the resistance to keep Marist's target under 250.
Wanting to get back into some form, opener Chris Stewart (72 not out) carried his bat through 132 deliveries, allowing Fraser (52) to be the dominant partner, as was Zak O'Keefe (34) and skipper Hamish Harding (35) when they came out, scoring at a run-a-ball.
Shaun O'Leary and Godfrey never quit trying, getting the consolation wickets of Harding and Hadleigh O'Leary respectively, before Stewart safely negotiated the handful of remaining runs by the 45th over.
The Whanganui and Wairarapa sides will play the other split round on January 25, before the Horowhenua-Kapiti teams come back for all sides to compete in the final round on February 8.
Red Star 215 (C Freeman 70, P Sigvertsen 33; F Kinnerley 5-25, A Gill 2-39) lost to Tech 217-4 (V Sanjaya 58, S Sherriff 57, D Lock 37no, A Gill 22, R Kinnerley 20no; J Osborne 2-23) by six wickets.
United 326 (G Smith 102, T Lance 60, T Bidois 39, S Badger 23, C Sharrock 22; J Ryan 4-72, J Vorster 2-38, H Barrett 2-44) bt Lansdowne 224 (J Forrester 42, O Bunny 41, J Mckenzie 38, R Speers 31, H Wakeling 26; S Badger 4-33, C Sharrock 2-40) by 102 runs.
Whanganui Collegiate 237 (H Godfrey 62, S O'Leary 59, J Clark 32; A Dinwiddie 3-52, H O'Leary 2-21, C O'Leary 2-38) lost to Marist 238-4 (C Stewart 79no, M Fraser 52, H Harding 35, Z O'Keefe 34) by six wickets.