The 2019-20 Ford Trophy ended with a wimper rather than a roar for the Central Stags after a nine wicket loss to the finals-bound Canterbury at New Plymouth's Pukekura Park on Sunday.
Already out of contention for the Top 3, while their visitors were still hunting a second place finish and home advantage for Thursday's elimination final, the Stags under former Wanganui player Tom Bruce won their second toss in a row and chose to bat.
They had a strong start as young Hawke's Bay wicket keeper Bayley Wiggins opened and scored his maiden century in just his third List A game, making 103 off 94 balls, which made up for being dismissed for 98 on his previous visit to Pukekura.
Hitting 14 fours and two sixes, Wiggins shared in partnerships with Nelson's Greg Hay (14) and Wanganui representative Ben Smith (15), who was getting set after flicking a couple of deliveries off his pads for boundaries.
However, both Smith and then Bruce fell in consecutive overs to leg spinner Theo van Woerkom (2-46), holing out to a catch and being stumped respectively.
Needing a par score of 300-plus at Pukekura, the Stags were struggling when Wiggins was caught off the bowling of Will Williams(2-40) at 183-5, as the middle order of Hawke's Bay Kieran Noema-Barnett (18) and Brad Schmulian (32), along with Nelson's Josh Clarkston (14), got starts but couldn't carry on.
The other spinner in Todd Astle (4-36) worked his way through them – getting catches, an LBW and a clean bowled, with the Stags dismissed by a runout after the last ball of the innings for an inadequate 237.
Canterbury then made no chase of the target, as the openers Chad Bowes (114 not out) and Jack Boyle (51) both rapidly raised their half centuries in a stand of 109 by the 19th over, before Boyle was caught by Noema-Barnett off the bowling of Hawke's Bay team mate Ajaz Patel.
But that would be the only breakthrough, as Stephen Murdoch (64 not out off 57) came in to attack the bowling.
Bowes carried on, scoring his hundred off 96 balls then adding 14 more runs off eight deliveries, while Murdoch signed the match off in just the 38th over with his third sixer, to go with six boundaries.
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Murdoch had waited until Bowes set a new personal-best score, having previously made 112 on three occassions, and the 52-match veteran got there by matching Wiggins with 14 boundaries and two sixes.
The win saw Canterbury finish one point ahead of the Otago Volts, both with 5-4-1 records, to get home advantage for the elimination final, while the Auckland Aces (6-4) had already locked in top spot for the grand final this Sunday, despite being thrashed by 210 runs against the Volts in their last game in Dunedin.
The Stags finished bottom of the table with a 2-7-1 record, however this does reflect their massive injury toll this summer, as on top of four players being on Black Caps and New Zealand A duties, six other regulars were not available for Sunday's match alone.
Smith finished the regular season with 356 runs, ninth overall in the competition, while team mate Seth Rance of Wairarapa was tied for second in the bowling stakes with 16 dismissals.