A champion team will always beat a team of champions.

Latrobe Valley only had one player named in this year’s All Gippsland XI – and won Sunday’s Gippsland Cricket League final by nine wickets.

Taking on traditional GCL powerhouse Sale-Maffra, who entered the senior men’s final undefeated, Latrobe Valley played best when it mattered most, beating the Sharks and the heat at Drouin’s Bellbird Park.

In what was likely the hottest GCL Finals day on record, with temperatures sitting around 35 degrees, Sale-Maffra failed to put a decent total together, and were bundled out for just 149 after electing to bat first.

Poor shot selection was generally to blame, as a number of players got starts without going on.

Garreth Wolmarans top-scored with 26 off 55 balls batting at number seven, but he was one of eight players to score between 10 and 30.

Things looked stable enough early, as Kev Renecke and Zac Hurley took the total to 35 without loss.

However, the pair fell within one run of each other, leaving two fresh batsmen at the crease to try and pick up the pieces.

It was a similar story a little while later when Jack Rietschel and Steve Spoljaric were dismissed, with the latter adding just nine runs following the departure of the former.

The incoming batsmen tried to combine preservation with ticking the score over, but for the most part, this failed to materialise.

Sale-Maffra sunk to 7/107, by which time a score around 150 was looking the most likely.

Latrobe Valley bowled well as a collective, with wickets shared throughout.

Al Jenkin and Lee Stockdale both took three, working in tandem during the middle stages.

James Pryde gave little away, going for just 28 off 10 overs, and got the ball rolling with the first wicket of the game.

Tye Hourigan was able to extract two wickets during his four over burst, taking the key scalps of Hurley and Rietschel up top.

Latrobe Valley had little trouble chasing the total, so much so the game was a foregone conclusion by the 20th over.

Jenkin and Frank Marks batted sensibly in a 102-run opening stand, knocking the ball into the wide open spaces of Bellbird Park.

Done it all: Man of the Match Al Jenkin scored 74 not out and took three wickets for Latrobe Valley. Photograph: Liam Durkin

The openers grinded Sale-Maffra away, who battled trying to find a breakthrough.

One had to feel slightly sorry for the Sharks, who were out in the scorching heat wearing virtually all-black uniforms.

Jack Tatterson and Dylan Bolton had a few ‘ooh’ moments with deliveries biting off the surface, but Jenkin and Marks seemed to have things covered all things considered.

Marks played some smart shots behind square, before being stumped for 39 off 67 balls.

Jenkin meanwhile kept batting, and saw the team over the line with an unbeaten 74 off 100 balls in a Man of the Match performance.

The left hander hit nine fours and a six, and was joined by fellow leftie Nat Freitag, who made an effortless 26 not out off 36 balls.

Despite dropping the most important game of the season, in fairness to Sale-Maffra, the Sharks hadn’t actually played Latrobe Valley before the final, as their regular season game was washed out.

Players from both teams were quick to escape the heat, and into the comfort of the air conditioned clubhouse at Drouin Cricket Club.

Raiders Cricket Club great Jeff Knowles proudly handed over the senior GCL premiership cup to Freitag, who then presented each player and official with their medallion.

This was the first time the GCL competition saw the strength of a combined team containing players from the former Traralgon District and Latrobe Valley District, which amalgamated last year.

While there was some conjecture around just how players from the two former associations would go playing together, with a premiership now secure, perhaps the proof was there for all to see.

Upon taking on the captaincy at the start of the season, Freitag adopted a ‘if we’re gonna do it, do it properly’ mantra, and has seen the rewards for doing so.

The TDCA’s last president, Steve Kay was reportedly rapt to hear of the result, while Cricket Latrobe Valley President, Brad Howlett was on hand to see the historic moment.

As a slightly humorous aside, given the inaugural season of Cricket Latrobe Valley has been punctuated with washouts, it was somewhat ironic the first GCL final involving the league had temperatures close to 40 degrees.

Further presentations were made to Fretaig and Sale-Maffra captain Dylan Bolton, who now both carry the title of ‘Champions of Gippsland’.

The pair received the accolades for their efforts in representative cricket. Bolton has made four All Gippsland XIs (picked after each GCL season), while Freitag has represented Victoria Country on numerous occasions.

While being champed is considered the ultimate insult, to be called a champion in this context is a huge honour.

Legendary Warragul and Tasmanian Shield fast bowler Mark Ridgeway spoke at the presentation, congratulating all involved on the season, making particular mention to outgoing GCL Region 7 President, George Munro.

Munro has led Region 7 for the best part of a decade, seeing Gippsland Cricket shine across the state – particularly at Under 21 level, where the Gippsland Pride team has won a number of premierships.

Ridgeway knows many of the Latrobe Valley players well, having coached the likes of Freitag and Stockdale at Victoria Country level.

The 63-year-old had a colourful if unlikely career for his adopted state, finishing with more than 150 first class wickets.

Latrobe Valley now turn their attention to Country Week, which begins February 12.

As Latrobe Valley is classified as a ‘new’ league, it will need to pay its dues by starting in Division 2.

Unfortunately, not all Gippsland associations are taking part in Melbourne Country Week this season.

Warragul District is not sending a team down for the second year in a row, after failing to receive enough buy-in from players.

With the estimated outlay for Country Week around $10,000 (accommodation, bus hire, etc), it can become a costly exercise.


The winning Latrobe Valley team was:

Nathan Freitag (Glengarry), Al Jenkin (Glengarry), Frank Marks (Glengarry), Hamish Busk (Glengarry), Riley Baldi (Moe), Jordan Campbell (Morwell), Matt Dyke (Ex Students), Mitch Harris (Ex Students), Lee Stockdale (Ex Students), Tye Hourigan (Centrals), Keenan Hughes (Toongabbie), Ryan Morley (Imperials), Ray ‘Razor’ Stanlake (scorer), Michael ‘Boozer’ Petersen (manager).


Success for CLV juniors

TWENTY20s are just hit and giggle anyway.

Latrobe Valley won the Gippsland Cricket League premiership that mattered, defeating Leongatha District in a high-scoring Under 18s final.

The side lost to Leongatha in the T20 Final on the Tuesday, but were able to turn the tables in the 50 over decider on Sunday.

Batting first at Hallora, Latrobe Valley put up a total of 7/218 from their allotted 50 overs.
Connor Seymour top-scored with 70, hitting nine fours in his 83-ball stay.

Kyan Mulley, Jacob Bloomfield and Hayden Stockdale all helped out with scores in the 30s.
Leongatha made an ominous start, getting to 1/116 before Willow Grove’s Darcy Walsh got the key breakthrough.

Walsh’s wicket was followed by a run out, which then saw Leongatha fall in arrears.

Some nervous moments came when Leongatha was 6/190, but Latrobe Valley bowlers were able to strike at crucial stages to see Leongatha fall short with 199 on the board.

Dylan van der Stoep capped off a great season in representative cricket, taking 3/13 off six overs, while Bloomfield finished with 3/28.

Seymour was named player of the match, making for one very proud aunty in the Express office.

Liam ‘Chops’ Cumiskey was named Player of the Year, alongside Leongatha’s Aydan Williams.