The first finalist of the Goulburn Valley Bush Bash League has been confirmed after the SRP Mud Dogs claimed a thrilling victory on Sunday.
The Mud Dogs and Cobram Panel Works Panthers went into the round two Crane Aid GVBBL contest unbeaten, but only the Orange Army walked away from Kyabram's Northern Oval with that record intact.
With a washout in the afternoon clash between winless Hurley's Hotel Hounds and Jarvis Delahey Crushers, it means the Mud Dogs cannot drop out of the top two with one match to play before the final.
It could just as easily have been the Panthers in that position though after the Mud Dogs claimed success in the final over of the match with one wicket in hand.
Liam Smith was able to work Adam De Cicco off his hip to the fine leg boundary for the winning runs after a bowler-dominated fixture where 18 wickets fell.
The Panthers struggled to string partnerships together after winning the toss and batting, but the likes of Michael Eckard (20 from 12 deliveries), Ben Fulford (16), Jordan Cleeland (14 not out) and Isaac Willett (13) were able to keep the runs ticking over.
Hamish Winter-Irving struck twice in his opening over — the second of the innings — to have the Panthers’ openers back in the sheds, but copped some tap from Eckard and Willett to finish with 2-36.
Mark Nolan (2-17) also claimed two wickets, while Alistair McCann snared 3-13 to prove the pick of the bowlers.
After McCann departed for four the Mud Dogs looked to be cruising with his brother Layton (19) and skipper Mitch Winter-Irving (20) swinging the bat hard, but a consistent bowling effort from the Panthers kept the side in the game.
Captain Matt Jaensch (2-16), Eckard (2-19) and Saranjit Kalsi (2-30) managed two wickets apiece, while Adam De Cicco, Romario Greaves and Lachie McMillan also chipped in with one.
Joel Brett (15 from 24) again proved crucial for the Mud Dogs in the middle order though and when he departed Keegan Armstrong (nine not out) and Smith (five) were able to see the men in orange across the line.
The Panthers now face a virtual elimination final against the Hounds at Deakin Reserve on February 2, with the Mud Dogs hosting the Crushers in the afternoon game.
Cobram Panel Works Panthers 9-107 (Michael Eckard 20, Ben Fulford 16, Alistair McCann 3-13, Mark Nolan 2-17, Hamish Winter-Irving 2-36) lost to SRP Mud Dogs 9-109 (Mitch Winter-Irving 20, Layton McCann 19, Matt Jaensch 2-16, Michael Eckard 2-19, Saranjit Kalsi 2-30).
Alistair McCann (Mud Dogs): McCann snared the best bowling figures of the GVBBL to date, taking 3-13 from his four overs to turn the screws on the Panthers’ middle order. Just shades Michael Eckard's efforts of 20 from 12 and 2-19.