Alliance champions North Runcton preparing for play-off challenge
- Credit: Archant
North Runcton are one win away from playing in the East Anglian Premier League next season after clinching the Cecil Amey Norfolk Alliance Premier Division title.
The West Norfolk side are now preparing for a winner-takes-all showdown against either Sawston and Babraham or Witham, with a semi-final on Sunday week set to determine their opponents.
Runcton have gone straight into the final following Vauxhall Mallards' decision to disband at the end of the season - but the winners of the match between the Cambs and Hunts and Two Counties League champions will have home advantage in the EAPL shoot-out on Saturday, September 21.
A dramatic turnarond saw Runcton secure the Alliance title last Saturday as they comfortably won at relegated Diss while morning leaders and defending champions Fakenham suffered a three wicket home defeat at the hands of Stow, who moved up to second as a result.
Runcton, who had beaten Fakenham on the penultimate weekend to keep their hopes alive, ended up finishing nine points clear at the top, with Fakenham a point adrift of Stow in third.
It was the club's first top flight title since 1987, when the likes of Peter Coote, Robin Huggins, Steward Bunting and John Barrett - father of current player Andrew - were mainstays of the side.
Coote, whose own son Ben captains the side, is now chairman and said the celebrations quickly got into full swing when news of Fakenham's defeat came through.
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"Our match finished early so all the players were back at North Runcton when we learned that the Fakenham result had gone our way," he said.
"It was a great evening for everyone connected with the club because it has been a long time coming! We have always had a competitive side but have tended to lose players to other clubs and the title has always eluded us.
"We have got a good team now, made up almost entirely of local players, many of whom came through our youth system. We have also got an excellent professional in Kirwin Christoffels who has done a really good job both on and off the field since he has been here.
"Everyone is now really looking forward to the play-off - and if we do go up everything here is geared to EAPL cricket."
The most dramatic match on the final day came in Division Two as promotion rivals Hethersett and Tas Valley and Ashmanhaugh and Barton Wanderers went head to head at Flordon.
Chasing a total of 177, Valley lost wickets at regular intervals. Director of cricket Ben France stood firm but when it came to the final two overs 24 runs were required for victory with the former Norfolk allrounder having just last man Matt Steward for company.
The target became 15 runs from one over and seven from two balls before Steward smashed the penultimate deliver for six. The scores were now tied but Valley needed to win the game to go up and Steward duly scampered through for a single off the final ball, with Wanderers missing a glorious chance to run him out.
That run secured Valley promotion and the highest level of cricket in their history while Wanderers missed out on a place in the top two by nine points.
Elsewhere Acle pipped Thetford for the second promotion spot in Division One behind Old Buckenham - despite a five run defeat at the hands of the champions on the final day. Thetford beat Lowestoft in their last fixture, but Acle picked up enough bonus points to stay above them.
In the clash of promoted sides in Division Three Bradenham beat Great Melton to secure the title while the other sides going up are Bradfield (Division Two), Sheringham and Cromer A (Division Four), Sandringham and Denver (Division Five) and Ashmanhaugh and Barton Wanderers A (Division Six).
Meanwhile the Alliance's player of the month award for July has gone to Tom Vaughan, who plays for Horsford B in Division Five. Over the course of the month he made scores of 108, 64 and 64 not out.
Read Brothers EAPL
Having booked their trip to Lord's in the Royal London Club Championship Swardeston will be doing their utmost to keep the EAPL title race alive on Saturday - even though they know the destination of the title is now out of their hands.
Joe Gatting's side go into the penultimate round of games 26 points adrift of leaders Frinton - and with 25 points available for a win you don't need to be a mathematician to work out that the Essex side will be champions if they are victorious in their game at Mildenhall.
All Swardeston can do is make sure they beat Saffron Walden at The Common - and then hope their rivals slip up. If that happens it would go to the final day, with Gatting's men at Horsford and Frinton at home to Cambridge.
In other games Great Witchingham host Vauxhall Mallards and Horsford travel to Copdock.
Swardeston's cup final against Cheshire side Nantwich at the home of cricket takes place on Monday, September 16, with an 11am start.
The Grand Stand and Warner Stands will be open for the game and admission is £10 for adults, £5 for over-65s and free for under-16s.