After being the bridesmaid in 2019 and 21, Penola broke free from its previous pain and has its hands back on the Hoggies Wines Barber Shield after controlling the 2021/22 Grand Final from start to finish against East Gambier.
The Eagles shone in glorious conditions at Frew Park and did not give the East Gambier Bulldogs a sniff from start to finish.
A team effort with the bat ensured Penola posted a formidable 9/217 from its 80 overs, which gave Lachlan Jones the freedom to steam in and tear the Dogs apart with his left-arm thunderbolts.
Jones’ five-wicket haul restricted East to 110 and handed a convincing win to the Eagles and the Barber Shield to a happy captain in Mark Smith.“I am a bit emotional actually because we have been here many times,” Penola Eagles captain Mark Smith said.
“We felt with the group we have, if we were ever going to win it, it will be this one, so I am very happy.
“This means so much to the team and community.”
The massive game was opened in grand style by Tim Brennan, who conducted a special Welcome to Country ceremony alongside players from both teams.
With anticipation at fever pitch, Penola made its intentions clear early in the two-day contest, hitting the loud pedal after winning the toss and batting first on a well-presented wicket with a small covering of grass.
Opener Jack Mullan showcased his hot form by flicking the opening delivery down towards the fine-leg boundary for two.
His stroke play off his legs and through the covers became a feature of the first hour as the Eagles’ openers prospered after taking the shine off the new ball.
At the other end Lewis March suffered a couple of painful blows, but also punished the bad balls and forced Bulldogs’ captain Alex Hentschke to switch from over to around the wicket earlier than expected.
After seeing off the threat of East’s damaging opening bowlers, Mullan and March continued to frustrate the opposition’s spinners and set themselves for long stints at the crease.
They managed to negotiate the first 40 overs of the innings which put Penola in the dominant position of 0/109.
But just as they started thinking about some personal milestones, a burst from the Hentschke brothers removed both set batters in consecutive overs to bring the Bulldogs back in the hunt.
Alex Hentschke led from the front in his second spell, leaving Mullan one run short of a fourth straight 50 before also finding the edge of his opposite number Smith.
Jones (20) reconsolidated the innings alongside Drew Clayfield (36) to briefly push the total beyond 150 – a first in a Barber Shield decider since 2016/17.
However, the pressure created from spinners Kev Thomson and Emerson Marks proved too much as the fall of Jones was followed by the departures of Jack Schulz, Michael Waters and George Kidman, who all could not break free from single figures.
Alex Hentschke returned to rip through the tail and looked set for a five-wicket haul after restricting the Eagles to 8/184.
With 14 overs still remaining, few would have predicted Penola to bat out the day, but Josh Doyle, Zac Zema and Conrad Slabber were defiant to push the total to 9/217 by stumps.
Alex Hentschke had bent his back all day and was rewarded with 4/59, while Thomson took two wickets after bowling the longest spell of 24 overs.
Being a side renowned for struggling to chase low totals, the odds were against East Gambier hunting down the second highest score made in a grand final since 2014/15.
Leigh Von Duve presented the Bulldogs with a dream start smoking the first legal delivery from Waters to the boundary rope, but he had a tougher time facing the left-arm angle of Jones and was trapped dead in front in the fourth over.
The early blow could have sent a shockwave of nerves through the East dressing room, but Ben Hentschke and Thomson had other ideas.
The aggressive Bulldogs’ duo put the pressure back on the bowlers and blasted 25 runs in quick time.
However, Jones and Waters have troubled East in the past and reopened some old scars with relentless lengths.
Across a mesmerising 10-over period, the Bulldogs had nowhere to hide as Jones crashed through Thomson, Steven Cameron and Ben Hentschke before Waters put the cherry on top removing the big-wicket of Dion Stratford with a delightful ball, which moved just enough off the seam to beat the bat and clip the bails.
Walking in with the scoreboard reading 5/42, East was in a crisis and turned to its captain Alex Hentschke once again.
He took matters into his own hands and attacked through the mid-wicket region, showing his intent by smashing his fourth ball to the picket fence.
This aggressive mindset helped Hentschke and Marks survive Jones and Waters’ marathon 30-over opening spell.
Penola turned to the pace-off options of Slabber and Kidman and the pair continued to go on the front foot with Marks striking one ball so hard it flew to the boundary in a flash despite leaving a big bruise on his partner’s back at the non-striker’s end.
But less than an over after getting dropped at mid-on, Hentschke went to hit Slabber over the same fielder and March held onto it this time to end the captain’s assault on 24.
At 6/76, the Bulldogs were on the canvas and despite Marks fighting hard until the end, his partners were tied down by Kidman and Slabber.
The struggle was summed up by Ben Robinson being run out for a duck thanks to some brilliant teamwork between Smith and Mullan.
Marks’ 118-ball 37 single-handedly pushed East to 110 until he was strangled down the leg side.
After skipper Smith pouched the winning catch, an elated Jones bolted off on a Shane Warne style victory lap and no one could catch him.
The winning wicket completed Jones’ five-wicket haul and Smith said he was a captain’s dream.
“I am really lucky to have a weapon like him,” he said.
“He played his heart out and would bowl 20 overs straight, so it is hard to drag him off.
“I did not feel safe until we had them eight down, so it was a gruelling contest.
“We needed someone to stand up and he was hungry and delivered.”