After two days of carnage, East Gambier has charged to the ladder lead thanks to a dramatic outright win away from home over Penola. The two-day Hoggies Wines Barber Shield clash at McCorquindale Park may had flashed by, but it thrilled spectators from the very first over.
After 19 wickets fell on the opening day, the Bulldogs were set to resume play at 9/97 with a first innings lead of 21. However, an aggressive declaration by East captain Alex Hentschke meant Penola padded up before play restarted.
Lewis March and Jake Schulz started cautiously against the new ball and crawled to 13 from the first six overs. But Hentschke’s pace proved too daunting on the tricky pitch and he dismissed Schulz and Jack Mullan within four balls.
Left-armer Liam Turley was also operating nicely with new ball and found the edge of Mark Smith early doors. After losing three wickets before the lead had reached double figures, the Eagles needed a stirring performance to keep their outright hopes alive.
March was still at the crease and had fought his way to 13 off 57 balls, but the introduction of Ben Hentschke’s wristspin created his downfall. With Penola staring down the barrel, Michael Waters and Tom Clayfield went on the attack. The pair was not afraid to take on the spin of Ben Hentschle and Emerson Marks, advancing the total to 61.
But before either of them could hit the hosts back in the game, Waters was out for 12. His wicket triggered a collapse as Marks combined with the Hentschke brothers to claim the last four wickets for the cost of just a single run.
Due to the Eagles being severely impacted by unavailability, only nine batsmen took guard on Saturday leaving the home side for a second poultry total in as many days. Alex Hentschke was the chief destroyer with 3/15, while Ben Hentschke and Marks both claimed two scraps each to knock Penola over for just 62 in 25.1 overs.
The ruthless bowling effort left the Bulldogs just 42 runs for the outright win. However, East was reminded of the difficulty batting on the McCorquindale Park surface straight away. Leigh Von Duve tried to get the visitors off to a flying start, but was trapped lbw for seven in Lachlan Jones’ second over.
Jones was charging in from the vineyards end and also knocked over Marks and Connor Little in quick succession. Despite the early scare, the experienced heads of Dion Stratford (13*) and Kev Thomson (16) guided the Bulldogs to safety.
The pair trusted their techniques before Thomson fell when the scores were tied before Turley struck the winning runs. Heading into the final day, Hentschke said all of his attention was taking home the big prize. “The plan was to get the outright win done as quickly as possible,” he said.
“Our bowlers bowled really well and we backed them up in the field. “Penola may had got some early wickets (in the run chase), but it was pleasing to see Dion and Kev get some important runs at this time of the year.”
Back on the opening day, Hentschke stole the show with 5/9 from 15 overs which put the Eagles to the brink of disaster. But the big fast bowler said most of the credit went towards the playing surface. “It was a really nice deck with a few lively spots which held its pace making it tough for the batsmen,” Hentschke said.
“The pitch did most of the work for me and I just focused on hitting areas. “It was nice to feel in a good rhythm and bowl with pace at this time of year.” East now sits above North Sportsman’s at the top of the ladder after the outright win.
However, Hentschke is not too concerned about the minor premiership and hopes to keep up the form against Mil Lel this weekend. “It is always nice to sit on top, but we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” he said. “Just baby steps ahead as we hope to build some form ahead of finals.”