Cricket: Nantwich complete title hat-trick
NANTWICH wrapped up their third successive Premier Division title... thanks to the rookie in their all-conquering side.
Seamer Chris Connolly, a mid-season recruit from Chester Boughton Hall, was making only his eighth appearance in Saturday's 46-run win at Toft.
But in a campaign where the likes of batsmen Jonny Kettle and Louis Bentley, plus bowler Jimmy Warrington, have stolen the headlines, Connolly made his mark at just the right time.
Needing victory to be assured of their hat-trick, Nantwich – who started the day 12 points clear of Hyde – were left wondering whether they had blown their chance after being dismissed for 126.
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They shouldn't have worried. Toft were quickly reduced to 6-5, before eventually being skittled for 80.
Connolly led the way with 5-27, while Warrington and left-arm spinner Ollie Griffiths grabbed a couple of victims apiece.
The triumphant scenes, involving players, supporters and officials, would probably have been the last thing on Connolly's mind at the start of the summer.
He claimed just three wickets in 11 league games for Chester, at an average of 81.
But he has thrived since arriving at Nantwich, ending up with a vital 19 scalps, at an average of little more than 11, to finish the season with a title-winners' medal.
It was also a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the club who, at the halfway stage, trailed top spot by a mammoth 67 points.
"It has been a fantastic team effort and the lads have pulled together," said skipper Andy Newton, whose side emulated the achievement of Bowdon (2002 to 2004) and Oulton Park (2005 to 2007).
"Louis has arguably been the pick of the batsmen, and Jimmy and Ollie have shone with the ball.
"But we can't forget the impact Chris has had. He's been fantastic since he joined the club and it was a great couple of spells he bowled.
"I'm delighted we've managed to get over the line, and grateful for all the support we've received."
Nantwich, asked to bat by their struggling hosts, made a promising start with Kettle and Chris Simpson compiling an opening stand of 29.
But once Kettle fell for 26, courtesy of a smart leg-side stumping by Patrick Ashling off seamer Tom Atkinson, the visitors' momentum was stunted.
The left-arm spin of Jamie Lomas, in tandem with leg-spinner Rob Jones, soon had Nantwich teetering on 60-6.
Sam Hunt and Warrington repaired some of the damage – the former opting for a cautious approach, while the latter decided attack was the best form of defence.
Their seventh-wicket partnership was worth 31 until Hunt had a rush of blood and danced down the wicket to Lomas, only to be stumped.
Warrington clubbed three sixes in his 29, while Newton's late 18 enabled Nantwich to creep up to 126 all out.
Lomas was the pick of the Toft attack, finishing with 6-82 from a marathon 25-over spell, with Jones (3-24) lending good support.
The Dabbers roared out of the blocks after tea with Connolly's triple blast, coupled with Warrington's double, leaving the hosts five-down with only six on the board.
Rob Jones (28) and Edward Stubbs (21) avoided total embarrassment for Toft with a 45-run stand to even give their side hope of launching a victory bid.
Ray Doyle broke the partnership by trapping Stubbs lbw, before the baton was passed back to Connolly.
Jones fell caught and bowled, while Atkinson was snapped up by the diving Newton at mid-on.
And when spinner Griffiths had Danny Hancock caught behind by Kettle, the celebrations could really begin.
Nantwich chairman Rob Sproston said: "To win the league three years on the trot is a huge achievement – it's the first time we've ever managed it. I'm very proud.
"Not many people gave us a chance with the start we made, but I knew that once this side gelled, we'd be there or thereabouts."
CONGLETON ended their Division Two season with a five-wicket defeat to Poynton.
Jye Bailey made 58 for Congleton, but they could only muster 108 all out.