Larne’s cricketers secured immediate promotion back to Section 2 of the Ulster Bank League with Saturday’s convincing 92-run victory over Ards.
The side travelled to Londonderry Park without several of their top players yet produced a superb team performance to defeat third-placed Ards and ensure they will finish the season as at least runners-up in Section 3.
Stand-in skipper Gareth Gaw lost the toss and it was no surprise when his team was asked to bat first on what looked like an extremely difficult pitch.
Four wickets fell in the first nine overs as Larne slumped to 30-4. Johnny McElhenney then launched an exciting counter-attack as he quickly helped himself to 32 valuable runs.
He played with a straight bat and sweetly timed the ball to the boundary five times and also smashed a six whilst making what was to be the highest score of the game.
After his dismissal the scoring rate dropped dramatically as club stalwarts Trevor Dempsey and Darren Stanton patiently accumulated runs during what turned out to be a vital partnership of 42.
Dempsey needlessly ran himself out near the end of the innings, but, with just one over left, Larne had done well to reach 144-9.
The game took a dramatic swing in the visitors’ favour when William Graham smashed 20 runs (including one huge six) from Cox’s final over to leave Ards needing 165 to win from 40 overs.
Graham and McElhenney followed up their impressive batting performances with some fiery bowling.
The pair shared the new ball and picked up four wickets between them within the first 10 overs.
Larne’s fielders were also on the top of their game with Neil Campbell diving forward to take a memorable and spectacular catch at mid-wicket.
Zach Wetherhead and Steven Brennan were also in good form in the field as the whole team worked hard to make scoring extremely difficult for Ards.
The constant threat of heavy rain meant change bowlers Aaron McKinley and Michael Lyle were under pressure to perform both effectively and quickly in case the game was rained off before 20 overs had been completed.
They both rose to the occasion and performed fantastically, with McKinley picking up 2-13 during his pacey spell.
At the other end, veteran seamer Lyle returned career-best figures for the Firsts as he finished the match with four for 12 from 6.1 overs.
Larne’s eventual 92-run victory means they will now finish the season in second place, at worst. They could, technically, still win the league if current leaders Cregagh were to unexpectedly lose their last three.
Larne will hope to keep the pressure on when they host Dungannon at Sandy Bay on Saturday.
Larne 164-9 (J McElhenny 30, W Graham 26no, P Devlin 3-23, P Cox 3-41)
Ards 72 (23.1 overs, A Balfour 21, J McElhenny 3-22, M Lyle 4-12).