Upstart Panthers down the Lions

Kooweerup quick Hussain Ali made his biggest impact so far for his new side on Saturday. 200938 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Russell Bennett

WGCA PREMIER DIVISION

REVIEW – ROUND 5 (DAY TWO)

It’s hard to imagine a more stirring home and away season win for the remainder of the 2019/20 West Gippsland Premier campaign than that of the Panthers over the Lions at Toomuc Reserve on Saturday.

The reaction from the Devon Meadows players, and their faithful alike, said it all as Trent Delaney safely took the catch on the deep mid-wicket fence off one of the competition’s most underrated all-rounders in Lucas Carroll to claim the game’s final wicket in its last over.

The Panthers had built steadily with the bat in 44 rain-interrupted overs on day one – reaching 3/111 at the close of play.

The wicket of young gun Kyle Salerno late in the day for 43 could, and would ordinarily have delayed the Panthers’ push.

But club president Mick Floyd strode to the crease as the night watchman and his 62-run stand with Lucas Ligt for the fourth wicket at the start of day two was crucial in helping their side to a match-winning position.

Ultimately, the closing stages of day one, and the opening stages of day two proved vital – leading to a win that Floyd said was the best he’d been involved with in the first XI, outside of a final.

It marked the first time the Panthers had toppled Pakenham since January 2011 – showing the difference in the trajectory of the two sides over that period.

And Floyd’s 57 off 42 balls faced? That was the bowler’s highest ever first XI score.

The Panthers still had another 16 overs to piece together as many runs as possible early on day two, before Pakenham faced its 60 overs in the rain-shortened match.

Ligt (64) and Floyd were crucial to that effort.

Then, with the ball against a Pakenham side missing a trio of its biggest stars from recent years – skipper Dom Paynter, Zac Chaplin, and Chris Smith – the Panthers stuck to their plans, bowled in partnerships, and secured key wickets right when they needed them most.

Devon Meadows skipper Michael Addison and his boys knew just how vital it was to remove Ben Maroney and Dale Tormey before they’d inflicted too much carnage from the top order in the chase, and with 24 and 35 runs to their name respectively, the visitors’ hopes were realised.

But after three wickets in quick succession – 3/88 with Tormey’s dismissal, caught behind; followed by 4/100 and 5/100 with the quick departures of Sean Gramc (17) and Jacobus Hynes (0) – the Lions regrouped.

They were always going to at some stage – they had too much proven talent not to.

This time it was through a 63-run stand between Troy McDermott (38) and Rob Elston (44), but Panthers coach Joel Wylie ultimately dismissed them both in his best bowling effort so far for his new club.

He’d ultimately finish with 5/79 from his 20 overs, while Carroll snared an equally significant 3/70 from his 23. Addison bowled the pair of them right through the game’s tense, closing stages – and looking back, he knows he wouldn’t have been able to take the ball from either one if he tried.

That was just one of the multitude of key factors or significant moments that played a part in the win.

The Lions were dismissed in the final over of play for 215 – just three runs shy of victory, after requiring seven off the final over.

Moving forward, the loss will hardly send shockwaves through the Pakenham camp. For them, it’s a Round 5 loss – a speedbump on the road of their season.

The Lions’ nucleus is still littered with Premier grade champions multiple times over.

But this result wasn’t about what it meant for Pakenham, but instead what it could mean to a young, rebuilding Panthers side.

“It was huge for us in the context of the season,” Addison acknowledged after the clash.

“I think we actually turned a bit of a corner against Merinda Park (scoring 226 in a rain-marred draw in Round 4), and got some real belief back.

“When we got back to the clubrooms on Saturday night (after the win over Pakenham), the place was buzzing.

“You’ve really got to celebrate those wins when they happen.”

This was always going to be a rebuilding season at Pantherland – the Panthers knew it, just as well as the rest of the broader competition.

Their Premier campaign, in particular, was never going to ultimately be about the numbers in the win and loss columns.

But the belief that Saturday’s result brings – that’s invaluable.

“It’s just so great for our kids to experience a win like that,” Addison said.

“A lot of the time, kids don’t necessarily appreciate those wins in the really successful clubs – and that’s a credit to those clubs (for winning so often).

“We just knew that wasn’t going to be us this year.”

Addison said he was equally rapt for Floyd, who walked out to the middle with just three minutes remaining before stumps on day one.

“When we got back there for day two, I just told him to have fun and if he saw it, hit it,” Addison said simply.

“I don’t think any of the balls he hit went where he wanted them to go, but his partnership with Ligty was massive for us.”

Addison also reserved plenty of praise for the clutch performances by Wylie and Carroll with ball-in-hand late on day two.

“Squeak (Carroll) has been doing that for Devon Meadows for such a long time now,” Addison said.

“I know he made the Premier Team of the Year last year, but I still don’t think he gets the credit he deserves, personally.

“He’s one of those guys who you just know will do a job for you. He bowled 23 overs on the trot – he just didn’t want the ball taken from his hand.

“Joel (meanwhile) has had an ok start to the year, but that was his coming out moment for us.”

But now, clearly, the Panthers have to make the most of the momentum they’ve created with this win. And their task this week hardly gets easier – taking on the Seagulls at Tooradin.

“Our challenge is to take the win – celebrate wins like this when they happen – and then move on. If this should show anything it’s that on our day, if we all work together, this kind of thing can happen.

“We learnt a lot in the last session on day one, and the 16 overs we batted on day two – particularly with just how many singles there are on offer out there. If you do that 50 times an innings, it changes your score massively.

“Our main thing on day two was our ability to bowl in partnerships, and we probably learnt that the big two or three sides aren’t untouchable – you can beat them – but you’ve got to stick to your plans, and worry more about what you’re doing than what they are.

“So often you can talk yourself out of it against these sides and lose the mental side of it before the game’s even been played.”

At Cardinia, meanwhile, Kooweerup’s 236-run day one total proved too strong for a plucky Bulls outfit on day two.

While the Demons had former Bulls coach Mark Cooper capitalise on his start on day one – converting a promising opening to his innings into a decisive ton – Cardinia had a string of batsman make starts they were unable to convert, culminating in being dismissed for 201 in reply.

Alex Nooy got off to a customary fast start at the top of the order before he was dismissed for 24, while skipper Bradey Welsh reached 30, and Travis Wheller and Justin Berry added 18 apiece.

Brad Reiner added an unbeaten 47 from the lower order, with Trent Wheller and Ryan Little adding 20 and 23 respectively.

But just as each seemed set, a Kooweerup attack missing spearhead Jess Mathers, struck.

Hussain Ali snared 4/52 from his 18 overs, while Ron Bright Jr (2/27) was the other multiple wicket-taker.

At Tooradin, the Gulls came agonisingly close to recording an outright win over Cranbourne Meadows.

After reaching 9/251, the Gulls tore through the Rebels in less than 42 overs in their first innings – dismissing them for 123, with the Lehman brothers, Troy (3/34) and Russ (4/30), spearheading the attack.

Cranbourne Meadows’ total would have been far less if not for an unbeaten 66 from Pardeep Singh, but the worst was still to come from their perspective.

Russ Lehman was seemingly unstoppable in 14 incredible overs, finishing with the brilliant figures of 7/39 as the Rebels were reduced to 9/79 from the final 28 overs of the contest.

The result would no doubt leave the Rebels asking themselves some serious questions, while the Gulls showcased the kind of all-around ability that has them considered a genuine premiership fancy in the eyes of many.

In the final clash of the round, Merinda Park’s 8/152 never seemed enough from 60 overs against the Cougars at Donnelly Reserve, despite a fighting middle-order 60 from keeper-batsman Thuduwage Kumara.

And it proved to be the case, with Clyde reaching 4/155 in 58 overs, courtesy of 37 from skipper Kiefer Peries and 65 from Kane Avard – backing up from a promising unbeaten 34 from his last Premier innings in Round 3.

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