Agony for North Down as Hills fight to the last
Alistair Bushe (News Letter)
There are defeat that are hard to take, and then there are defeats like the one North Down suffered in Sunday's dramatic Irish Cup semi-final defeat by The Hills.
It wasn't so much a body blow as suffering a knockout punch, a loss that will take not so much weeks as the best part of a long winter to get over.
The final margin was just three runs but as James Cameron-Dow could only scramble a single off the final ball of the match from Naseer Shoukat when a boundary was needed, it probably would have been easier to stomach had North Down finished 100 adrift.
The facts are brutally stark.
After restricting The Hills to 223 for eight, a total that owed almost everything to a brutal assault by Max Sorensen coupled with 33 runs being pummelled from the last two overs, North Down weren't so much in the driving seat as enjoying a victory lap.
They were 126 without loss in the 30th over, needing 98 runs from more than 20 overs.
The Hills, famed as battle-hardened warriors who never give up, had run out of ideas with Nick Larkin and Jonathan Terrett in cruise control.
What happened next is still difficult to fathom.
After making a completely untroubled 60 from 87 balls, Larkin got a fine edge to spinner Manu Kumar as he tried to run the ball down to third man and wicketkeeper Nicolaas Pretorious took the catch.
If you were being critical, Ryan Haire should have promoted himself to number three instead of Andrew Sutherland because together, Sutherland and the previously fluent Terrett struggled as The Hills belatedly took the pace off the ball.
The second-wicket pair could only add 25 from eight overs and Terrett was cutting a frustrated figure by the time he gave Kumar his second wicket.
He had hit seven boundaries in his 65 but those runs had taken him 112 balls and the asking rate by now was climbing towards a run-a-ball.
What followed was a nerve-racking finale as the momentum swung one way and the next.
Ryan Haire briefly restored North Down's momentum by taking Sorensen for a six and a four in the 42nd over but he was gone an over later.
You could feel the tension mounting as Eakin was smartly stumped by the impressive Pretorious and then Taimur Khan aimed a horrible heave and was bowled by the veteran Shoukat, who seemed to have the ball on a string as the light dimmed.
With 31 needed from four overs and four wickets in hand, the game swung back to North Down as first Andrew Haire swung Mike Baumgart for six over mid-wicket and the 48th over from an out-of-sorts Sorensen went for 12.
The equation was just 11 from 12 balls but Haire fell to Luke Clinton in a penultimate over that yielded just three runs.
That left North Down needing eight from the final six balls with seven enough to tie and earn them a win on fewer wickets lost.
Shoukat though was just too clever.
Earlier Sorensen struck six sixes, including two that flew out of the ground, and three fours in a breathtaking 70 from 57 balls.
Kumar's late unbeaten 27 from just 15 was also priceless in the final analysis.
The Hills, fighters to the last, will meet holders Clontarf in the final on Saturday.