ACADEMY missed a glorious opportunity to clinch the Division 1 Section 2 title when they let long-time leaders, Laurelvale, off the hook.
A home victory that would almost certainly have led to the Hydepark lads being crowned champions seemed on the cards when the Co Armagh team needed 96 off the final 10 overs with only three wickets left, but an inspired unbeaten 64 by Michael Burns turned the tables.
Burns hit six massive sixes and three fours at Newforge to secure an unlikely win by two wickets with only six balls remaining, while wily spin bowler Brian Boyd kept his composure to finish tops with 4 for 29 off his 10 overs.
David Greenlees was next-best with 2 for 18 off 10, while Jonny Irons and Gerry Sloan each claimed one victim as Laurelvale ended on 217 for 8 in 49 overs.
After deciding to take first knock, Academy posted a respectable 213 all out in 49.1 overs on a dampish wicket.
Club professional Prem Ahire top-scored with 37, with useful contributions from Peter Whitten 27, Danny McFadden 24, Brian Kelso 22, Michael Shields 17 and David Greenlees 13.
Reflecting on the game club secretary, Jack Quinn, said: “It was a remarkable turnaround. We expected a tight game against the team that had been in pole position throughout the season and we thought we had them when they were reduced to 118 for 7 with only 10 overs remaining, and still needing upwards of a hundred to get a result.
“However, Burns adopted the long-handle approach and hit boundaries with apparent effortless ease to put his side back in to contention and then clinch a memorable win that blew the title chase wide open.
“For several weeks, it has been a three-horse race involving Laurelvale, Templepatrick and ourselves, and here we are with time running out with all three having lost twice. As far as I am aware, if we all finish with the same number of points we will be declared joint Section 2 winners, with no provision having been made for a play-off series.
“However, it could all change in a tense run-in,” he added.
A win against Cooke Collegians on Sunday ensured that Mark Shields’ lads have one hand on the Section 2 trophy. With only one fixture remaining to be fulfilled in Portadown this weekend they have the points in the bag, while title rivals Templepatrick and Laurelvale still have a couple of matches to play.
Opting to bat first, Academy posted a daunting 261, with David Greenlees, Shields and Danny Morgan each contributing a half-century and the hosts fell 43 runs short at Shaw’s Bridge, where they were all out for 218 in the 39th over.
Greenlees top-scored with 65, with support from Shields 54, Morgan 51 and Chris Halliday 29.
Greenlees and Halliday then enhanced their all-rounder credentials by claiming some wickets. Greenlees returned the best figures with 3 for 18, while Halliday had 1 for 24, with Prem Ahire taking 3 for 32, Jonny Irons 2 for 42 and Brian Boyd finishing with 1 for 38.