Local hopes dashed in Country Cricket knockouts
COUNTRY CRICKET: There will be no local representation when Clarence Valley hosts the McDonald's Country Plate and Country Cup finals at the end of this month.
The last bastion for the region, Lower Clarence missed out on their chance to appear in the Country Plate semi-finals at Ellem Oval and McKittrick Park on December 28 after succumbing to Cessnock in the quarterfinal on Sunday.
Controversially, despite Lower Clarence being drawn as the hosts, there was no home ground advantage with the match played at the neutral venue of Oxley Oval in Port Macquarie following a request from Cessnock due to travel constraints.
With heavy clouds blanketing the ground, stand-in captain Nathan Ensbey elected to bat after winning the toss with thoughts of posting a big total similar to the impressive 191-run round one win over Port Panthers Pirates when they last played at the venue on October 9.
With the ball seaming and swinging early innings conditions Lower Clarence succumbed to an early onslaught from the Cessnock attack and never fully recovered.
Cessnock seamer Robbie Sidebottom utilised the lateral movement off the pitch to take wicket in each of his first three overs.
There was a minor fightback led by Doug Harris (28, but when he departed with the score at 4 for 35 Lower Clarence was in all sorts.
Captain Luke Many was a late arrival after family matters kept him from making it to the bus for the journey down and when he got to Port Macquarie he immediately knew it was dire straits.
"I missed the opening spells but I know they were just bowling some consistent lines and lengths," he said.
"They had us four for stuff all by the time I got there, then we were six for stuff all and we just never really recovered from it."
When he got to the crease with the score at 7 for 59, the captain attempted to take the long handle to the Cessnock attack and did so with success until he was caught for 29 chasing quick runs.
Bowled out for 108, there was dejection spreading through the camp, but Many was soon on the attack as they chased early wickets in the Cessnock innings.
"Maybe another 40 runs on the board and we might have been half a show," Many said. "I was really happy with the way we bowled. With the sun coming out and the pitch flattening out there was not a great deal in it for us.
"The new ball moved a bit in the first five or six overs. Hayden (McMahon) got it to swing a bit while Bear (Brandon Honeybrook) bowled a bloke shouldering arms, but it really flattened right out.
"They used the conditions better than us and that is why they are going to Grafton in a couple of weeks and we are not."
The Lower bowlers never gave up and with Cessnock five down at the tea break the fielding side thought they were half a chance of rolling through the tail. But it wasn't to be as their opponents finished off the chase in the 29th over with four wickets remaining.
"It was just one of those days," Many said. "It is disappointing and everybody in the side is filthy.
"It is just a shame to finish that way because it was nowhere near our best game. You would rather bat well and get beat than go out on that performance.
"It was not for a lack of trying from the boys but it looks like the focus will be on the Inter-District competition for the rest of the season."
Cessnock will be joined in the Country Plate finals by Temora, Young and Bowral in the semi-finals.
In the Country Cup competition, Clarence River nemesis Tweed, who have knocked the side out two years in a row, will play in the finals after dispatching Coffs Harbour in a two-wicket thriller on Sunday.
After dismantling the Coffs batting lineup for just 96 runs, Tweed stumbled in their run chase at Seabreeze Oval to scrape over the line in the 36th over.
Tweed will be joined by last year's Country Cup hosts Tamworth, Bathurst and Southern Spirit for the semi-finals at McKittrick Park and Lower Fisher Park on Thursday, December 29, with the Country Plate final played at Ellem Oval the same day.
The Country Cup final will be played at Ellem Oval on December 30.