By Chris Anderson
With just six rounds remaining before finals, the race is on in earnest for post-season action in the Yarra Valley.
In DJ Strachan Shield, it was last-placed Seville that reminded everyone the side was not a spent force this season, closing to within one game of the top four with an impressive victory against Wandin.
Wandin’s form leading into Christmas had been impressive and the side had quickly established itself in the top four, while Seville had struggled to post wins despite some improvement across the season.
Seville batted first in this contest and, as has been their way this season, battled to gain significant momentum due to regular wickets.
The Blues batted out their 40 overs despite only four batsmen scoring double figures.
Andy Kay and Caleb Frankovic would provide some staunch resistance at the top of the order, but wickets would continue to fall with little progress.
With a score around 100 looming, it would come down to the experienced heads of Rod Pearce and Daniel Healy to push the score to a competitive 9/135 to keep the home side in the contest.
The Wandin bowlers shared the honours in a fairly even display with Luke Chandler, Jamie Oakley and Rob Henderson all bagging two wickets a piece.
Despite gifting their opponents 27 runs through extras, Wandin would’ve been fairly comfortable with proceedings at the break, and going on form would’ve been confident of chasing the total.
Maybe they were a fraction too comfortable.
From the moment the steady hand of Marcus Smith netted three early wickets, it seemed Wandin were never in the hunt in an excellent display of bowling from Seville.
All the Blues who turned their hands to bowling had some success as they rolled through the Bulldogs line up inside 26 overs for a paltry 73 runs.
Mark Sandfort started the new year in style with three wickets to join Smith at the top of the wicket takers.
Tim Thorne was the only batsman to contribute to the chase, but a top score of 21 isn’t going to cut it in the top grade.
At the other end of the scale, the Christmas break didn’t slow Mount Evelyn’s impressive undefeated season as they made short work of Warburton-Millgrove on the road.
The Burras won the toss and elected to bat in excellent conditions, but found themselves in early trouble courtesy of an early couple of wickets to veteran Chris Anderson.
Sensing his team losing a grip on the contest, Burras mainstay Liam Barnard asserted himself on the game.
With some blistering strokeplay, not only did he get the scoreboard moving in the right direction but he put a little pressure back on the Mount Evelyn bowlers who haven’t been challenged too often this season.
His innings was cut short for an enterprising 40 with the score on 3/53, and from there the innings struggled to regain momentum.
Gareth Fraser (2/30) and Chad Witherdin (3/9) heaped the pressure on the middle to lower order of the Warburton-Millgrove batting line up, and despite some gritty batting from Ben Lever (23) with the tail, the innings crawled to a disappointing 104.
The Mounters cantered to the victory target inside 16 overs without the loss of a wicket.
Jesse Fraser’s remarkable season continued as his innings of 44 not out put his season record at 373 runs at an average of 124, while his partner in crime, Jon O’Donnell, is starting to find his feet with 48 not out to round out a tidy unbeaten century partnership.
In the final game of the round, Yarra Junction had a solid victory against a hapless Healesville outfit.
Yarra Junction won the toss and elected to put a score on the board, and they managed the task well.
From the word go, captain Kevin Bomford led his team from the front.
His explosive approach and rapid scoring was well supported with some assured batting from Marcel Kocher at the other end.
A 60-run opening partnership put the Eagles on the right track.
The pair fell in quick succession to the hand of Healesville captain Ash Hamer and this threatened to derail the innings, but Matt Mallick (47) and Andy Cowan (31) would have nothing of it.
The pair reeled off another significant partnership, this time 81 runs to take the game away from the Bloods.
Their partnership would take their team deep into the innings and allow it to flourish to a handy total of 5/179.
Healesville would have to be at their best to chase down this total, but with Nick Bark removing the openers before the score had reached double figures, the task would prove to be too difficult.
Max Minney and Dale Senior would do well to re-establish the innings and give it some momentum, but when the pair fell, closely followed by Hamer, before the score had reached 50, all hope had been effectively snuffed out.
Dan Ebbels and Jordan Poynton would stall the Eagles’ progress with some disciplined batting, showing up their more experienced counterparts and giving the Healesville faithful some joy on an otherwise fruitless day.
Nick Bark would capture another couple of late wickets to boost his wicket tally to four, Healesville would see out their overs, and in the end it was a comfortable 55-run victory for the home side and some regained momentum for the run home to finals.
With just two games separating second and sixth, the race is well and truly on, and Round 11 shapes as a crucial one-day fixture before the toil of two day cricket restarts.
Healesville will host Seville in a fixture that could mean curtains for the losing team, while the winners might find themselves inside the top four.
Healesville has battled inconsistency in performance and a steady line up which has cost it any momentum this season.
A hungry Seville looks set to pounce with finals a real possibility and could sense an ideal opportunity to finally close the gap.
With both teams struggling to find runs, a season-defining innings or partnership could be the recipe for success for both teams.
Mount Evelyn will host Yarra Junction and the Eagles need a big performance to follow their round 10 victory.
Traditionally, Mount Evelyn has struggled against the Eagles’ disciplined attack and if the visitors could find some more runs as they did on the weekend, they could find themselves up to their eyeballs in this contest.
Mount Evelyn would be loath to give up its dominance and will be hell bent on staying undefeated and will prove hard to pass.
The final game of the round will see Wandin host Warburton-Millgrove and much lies on victory in this clash.
For Wandin, a win would straighten up their season and a chance to quickly move on from the weekend’s poor result, while Warburton-Millgrove need to start finding some momentum if they are to feature in a fifth Grand Final on the trot.
A loss for either would be a second loss on the trot in 2019 and a significant ding in confidence.
DJ STRACHAN SHIELD
Seville 9/135 (R. Pearse 25, D. Healy 23*, A. Kay 20, L. Chandler 2/18, J. Oakley 2/23, R. Henderson 2/24) d Wandin 10/73 (T. Thorn 21, M. Sandfort 3/8, M. Smith 3/14)
Mount Evelyn 0/107 (J. O’Donnell 48*, J. Fraser 44*) d Warburton-Millgrove 10/104 (L. Barnard 40, B. Lever 23, C. Witherdin 3/9, C. Anderson 2/15, G. Fraser 2/31)
Yarra Junction 5/179 (M. Mallick 47, K. Bomford 44, A. Cowan 31, A. Hamer 2/20) d Healesville 8/124 (J. Poynton 35*, M. Minney 19, N. Bark 4/38, M. Kocher 2/5)
RA FINGER TROPHY
Woori Yallock 8/158 (C. Ferguson 68, M. Dwyer 26, A. Whelan 3/39, C. Dikschel 2/29) d Coldstream 10/124 (D. Oliffe 42, D. Pezzimenti 18*, M. White 5/30, M. McPhee 2/8)
Gruyere District 2/112 (A. Waixel 38*, M. Tilney 38*, B. Wallace 1/14, S. North 1/32) d Healesville 9/110 (B. Wallace 27, R. Nolan 22, R. Proud 4/19, A. Vassallo 2/11)
Mount Evelyn 8/255 (A. Giblin 113, D. Fraser 78, M. Richards 4/33, T. Gaskett 3/80) d Yarra Junction 10/122 (J. Vanderhyde-Davies 21, H. Relf 21, A. Whiting 4/20, J. Vanraay 3/27)
Seville 7/148 (D. Gale 106*, S. Fawdry 2/32, C. Maki 1/22) d Wandin 9/145 (M. Fawdry 45, D. Marshall 17, C. Tanner 4/33, M. Berri 2/7)
Marysville 4/183 (C. Piggott 46*, G. Mitchell 39, T. Gleeson 39, C. Parker 3/38) d Launching Place 7/180 (S. Parker 47, M. McConnell 40, K. Fiske 2/26, L. Ronalds 2/33)
Warburton-Millgrove 1/48 (S. Hargrave 24*, J. Sharp 20*) d Woori Yallock 9/35 (A. Whitworth 11, S. Middleton 3/0, A. Nelson 2/9)
Seville 3/270 (D. DiPietro 136, D. Knight 78, B. Rothberg 2/30) d Wandin 9/77 (B. Galante 36, M. Hadlum 3/20, J. Foster 2/10, J. Mullins 2/12)