A benign Victoria Park pitch with tennis ball bounce saw Wanganui Vet Services Marist make their first Bullocks Coastal Challenge Cup final after beating Levin Old Boys by seven wickets in a semifinal where 617 runs were scored in 97 overs on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Property Brokers United's playoff curse against two-time defending champions Paraparaumu continued at Kena Kena Park, as letting the home side sneak a 78-run partnership from their final wicket and having yet another batting collapse in the face of a low total led to a 41-run loss.
Marist had no trepidations about chasing down Levin's 307-8 to win and even had their most in-form batsman in Mark Fraser still waiting impatiently on the boundary rope as all five men who did take to the crease contributed in the warm conditions.
The required run rate rarely even approached seven an over as Marist comfortably worked the ball into the gaps for easy singles and two's in between the occasional big overs, striking 33 boundaries overall, along with some hard run three's on misfields or the returning throw of fielders on the longer southern boundary.
Not required for Central Districts duties, Ben Smith (44 not out off 35 balls) made a welcome return to club cricket and closed out the innings in a quickfire 104-run partnership over 12 overs with top scorer John McIlraith (86 not out of 67) which saw Marist home with three overs to spare.
But it was bowling his medium pacers around the wicket where Smith made his biggest contribution with figures of 6-52, which helped prevent Marist from chasing a target north of 350 as Levin's middle and lower order were all caught out at the end of the innings.
Levin got away to a flyer as Dion Sanson (113) locked down his end while opening partner Jamie Pinfold (44 from 31 balls) launched two sixes and four boundaries in an 86 run stand in less than 13 overs.
Bailey Te Tomo (29), Ryan Taylor (58) and Keegan MacLachlan (26 from 13) looked to carry on the momentum, yet on a day where all bowlers copped a whacking, Marist spinner Zak O'Keefe (1-31) showed great control in his ten overs to jam the breaks on.
Still, Levin were ready for the slog at 251-2 in the 44th over, however Marist opted to use Smith as a closer and in one over he completely broke the key 118-run partnership as Sanson holed out to an excellent Nick Harding boundary catch, and then Taylor hit one up to O'Keefe.
MacLachlan was still ready and launched three sixes, until trying one time too many with Dominic Rayner taking the catch, and then the Smith-Harding connection would see two more catches taken, while Sam O'Leary also had safe hands for another.
Smith bowled a great final over with three wickets and just four runs conceded.
Rayner (31) and Chris Stewart (82) immediately got on top of the Levin bowlers, who soon had fielders flung wide but just could not stop the veterans putting the ball wherever they wanted.
It seemed only fatigue from the heat might get to them, as a perspiring Rayner missed a low straight delivery from Jacob O'Brien (2-42), while the fireman Stewart continued on with O'Keefe (41 from 33) to lift the run rate into the seven's with quick running between the wickets – Stewart showing a real yeoman's effort in his 111-ball knock.
For the second weekend in a row, O'Keefe missed a deserved 50 when he got too much on a chip for a Bowick catch off spinner Keegan MacLachlan, but at 150-2 in just the 26th over, Levin could already see the writing on the wall.
McIlraith was quickly into his work and wouldn't allow Levin's bowlers to settle into some kind of rhythm, because while O'Keefe had driven the ball with authority, the skipper deftly flicked deliveries off his pads and foot into gaping holes.
O'Brien was brought back and Stewart was not happy with his LBW dismissal, one of only three times Levin managed to hit Marist pads to make an appeal in the innings.
But the opener had not only anchored the chase, he had tired out Levin's pace men, who could get nothing from the pitch, while also seeing off the worst of the day's heat as the clock had nearly reached 6pm and conditions were more manageable as Smith joined McIlraith in the 35th over.
Dot balls became rare as the pair continued to work singles and two's in between waiting for the big shots, with talented bowlers like Fraser Bartholomew and O'Brien unable to find an answer.
Looking at their sums, Levin were going to be one over short on the quota from their two best bowlers, so Liam Pinfold had to be brought back to deliver the 44th over and Marist attacked him with 13 runs from it, as one smashed boundary from Smith travelled to the far side of the neighbouring pitch.
Smith began charging out of his crease as he looked to get his 50 with the few remaining runs, but he had to surrender the strike and McIlraith plundered Bartholomew.
Consecutive fours on both sides of the wicket was followed by a wide that went to the boundary from the shattered bowler, and then McIlraith drove him back over this head to end the most perfect team run chase seen in Coastal Challenge this season.
A Kena Kena Park, the script of the past two seasons played out again – as an undermanned United had Paraparaumu on the ropes at 101-9 in the 39th over but would let them off the hook, and then succumb themselves despite a couple of slowly built partnerships.
Despite the absence of Simon Badger and Chris Sharrock, who would be missed more for their in-form batting than bowling, United had a quartet of spinners and Robbie Power (2-12), Tom Lance (2-49) and Dylan Martin (2-32) had the home side pinned down, after pace bowler Ryan Slight (3-31) got the early breakthroughs.
Only Bryon Gill (30) survived amongst the top order, but Paraparaumu were batting deep with Josh Bohmer (23) and aggressive Sean Windle (56 not out) as the final pair.
Having bowled out Slight when looking to polish off the innings, while the other spinners had also used up their 10 overs, Lance carried on while veteran Martin Pennefather also sent down three overs.
Windle cut loose in a defiant 35-ball slog, hitting three sixes and six boundaries while likely denting United's confidence quite considerably, based on the past two years of Challenge Cup finals.
And so it came to pass again, as United could not get in the mindset to bat through to surpass 179, slumping to 37-4 in the 13th over as Bohmer (2-33) and Windle took momentum from their last wicket stand over into their bowling.
Once again this summer, it was Matthew Simes (43 from 99) not giving away his wicket but watching them tumble at the other end, as Matthew Boswell, Lance, Andre Canderle and Gerard Hobbs were all gone in single figures.
Coming off his 95 not out last weekend plus a week of NZMG cricket, Brendon Walker (29 from 30) appeared like he might take control back with two sixes and two boundaries to lift United to 78-4, but Dylan Reder (4-15) had him for what would be one of three catches by Rory Lorimer.
Power (12) came out knowing he was the last recognised batsman with a long tail behind him, as he and Simes slowly pushed the score over the 100 mark with 23 runs in 11 overs.
But James Logan got Power off another Lorimer catch and Martin Pennefather was trapped in front by Reder in the next over and it seemed that would be it at 103-7 in the 34th over.
However, young James Pennefather (22 off 21) was defiant and raised hopes of a similar miracle as Windle provided, hitting four boundaries, which was the same as Simes but in a much shorter time frame.
But at 138-7, Reder stepped up with Pennefather caught behind and then Martin bowled with the next delivery, and although Slight survived the hat trick ball, Simes finally gave up a caught and bowled to spinner Nigel Harvey (2-22) in the next over.
Marist will now trek south on February 23 to try and do what United could not for the past three seasons.
In the minor playoff games, Whanganui Collegiate reversed their eight-wicket hammering by The Watson's Tech on January 19 with a 72 run win at Victoria Park after Tech, disappointed to just miss the semifinals, self-destructed in their run chase to get out swinging for less than 100.
United CC continued their late season surge with a 84 run win over Weraroa on their own domain, while Kapiti Old Boys picked up a comfortable eight wicket win over Red Star at Paraparaumu Domain.
Levin Old Boys 307-8 (D Sanson 113, R Taylor 58, J Pinfold 44, B Te Tomo 29, K MacLachlan 26; B Smith 6-52) lost to Marist 310-3 (J McIlraith 86no, C Stewart 82, B Smith 44no, Z O'Keefe 41, D Rayner 31; J O'Brien 2-42) by seven wickets.
Paraparaumu 179 (S Windle 56, B Gill 30, J Bohmer 23; R Slight 3-31, R Power 2-12, D Martin 2-32, T Lance 2-49) bt United 138 (M Simes 43, B Walker 29, J Pennefather 22; D Reder 4-15, N Harvey 2-22, J Bohmer 2-33) by 41 runs.
Collegiate 165 (H O'Leary 46, S Sheriff 39, W Hocquard 24no; A Kumar 3-28, B Hunter 3-56, H Mann 2-21, J Watkin 2-41) bt Tech 93 (T Czerwonka 23, J Watkin 20; B Hourigan 4-33, J Clark 3-1, H Morrison 2-21) by 72 runs.
United CC 315 (J Vorster 151, L Burt 61; T Kauwhata 4-23, H Dobson 2-43, J Dawson 2-70) bt Weraroa 231 (H Dobson 73, T Morgan 54, B De Burgh 26, J Culleton 23; L Burt 4-43, R Spears 3-37, Q Childs 2-24) by 84 runs.
Red Star 150 (J Osborne 61, P Sigvertsen 46; M Harrison 4-25, Z Benton 2-23) lost to Kapiti Old Boys 151-2 (C Andrews 72, J Miles 52, M Harrison 20) by eight wickets.