IT was “Tigertime” for the second summer in a row after North Sportsman’s claimed the 2019-20 Barber Shield cricket premiership in an enthralling grand final at Malseed Park on the weekend.
After six consecutive appearances on the big stage, the Tigers finally achieved back-to-back titles when they overcame a spirited East Gambier outfit.
The Bulldogs pushed the premiership favourites all the way, but their dreams of a fairy-tale victory were shattered by a flying Kieran Ashby in the slips.
The decider played out in similar fashion to the previous North-East battles this season, with ball dominating bat across the two days of play.
Tigers’ captain Nick McInerney won the toss and elected to bat on what appeared to be a surface favouring the batsmen.
However, Ben Clark and East captain Alex Hentschke gave nothing away with the new ball and the former dismissed Mitchell Lewis cheaply.
Jake Schutz and Aidan Thatcher were patient at the crease and their hard work paid off after they saw out the new-ball pair, but runs remained a premium as the first boundary did not arrive until the 22nd over.
After fighting hard for a gritty 41, Schutz smashed a short Emerson Marks’ delivery straight down backward square-leg’s throat.
With the key wicket now back in the pavilion, Hentschke sensed an opportunity to break the game open and brought himself back into the attack.
The game was brought to life, as Hentschke got stuck into Elliott Fisher during a hostile spell.
Fisher suffered several blows to the body, but survived until tea after many close calls alongside Thatcher.
The persistence of Alex and Ben Hentschke won the battle, as the latter trapped Thatcher lbw for 21 off 134 balls.
Ashby was positive from ball one and tried to lift the pace of the game, but he fell lbw to Marks on 12.
Shortly after Fisher and Justin McConnell were dismissed in similar fashion by Nathan Gore, who also clean-bowled the North’s captain for one.
The innings was finished off in style by a sharp catch from Matthew Hastings, as Clark and Alex Hentschke returned to wipe out the final three wickets in as many overs.
Their work meant the Tigers lost 8/29 to be bowled out for 111.
The chief destroyers were Clark and Gore who claimed 3/14 and 3/6 respectively, while Marks picked up two wickets and the Hentschke brothers took one each.
The late carnage forced East’s batsman to face a daunting seven-over period before stumps.
Facing a charged up North attack under fading light, Darren Whitehorn could not survive the first over from Tim Young and was trapped lbw for two.
Despite many nervous moments, Gore and Connor Little survived to return on the second day.
It was tense atmosphere when play resumed and the pressure applied by Young and Kenny got the better of the Bulldogs’ top order.
Gore was the first to depart after he slipped while running between the wickets to be run out for a 20-ball duck, while Little was knocked over by Kenny for seven.
The early drama brought East’s two best batsmen together with Dion Stratford and Marks at the crease.
However, a back injury severely hampered Stratford and the left-arm angle of Young proved too much for the former, who was caught behind for four.
Despite fighting hard for a long period of time, Marks was dismissed by Young in identical fashion for seven shortly after and suddenly East was on the verge of defeat at 5/27.
With his team in trouble, Alex Hentschke made a statement from his first ball and started to build a partnership alongside the proactive Hastings.
But Hentschke fell to his opposite number on 13 and the Bulldogs were in desperate need of a stand.
Hastings showed promise with some big hits down the ground, but just as he started to swing the momentum, a diving catch by Lewis ended his innings on 29.
After losing 3/10, East’s chances of victory appeared dashed with 34 runs remaining and just one wicket in hand.
However, tail-enders Liam Turley and Alec Roberts began to frustrate the reigning premiers.
Tensions were high as North’s fielders began to feel the pressure, while East crept closer to the target with the vocal support from a small section of the crowd.
But Young returned to deliver the knock-out blow thanks to a diving catch by Ashby, which sparked ecstasy for the Tigers and agony for the Bulldogs.
North’s 22-run victory was led by a remarkable bowling effort from Young, who picked up 5/26 from 21.3 overs en route to man-of-the-match honours.
Kenny and McInerney were the other wicket-takers with two each, while only two East batsmen reached double figures to be bowled out for 89.