United Services boosted their Hampshire League division two promotion chances with a crucial three-wicket win over Bedhampton Mariners at Burnaby Road.
It was a vital success for Matt Easton’s team with their three closest rivals Bishop’s Waltham, Petersfield and Old Basing also winning.
Services remain on course to make an instant return to the top flight but Easton warned they still have plenty of work to do.
‘This win is a step in the right direction but we have some big games coming up,’ said Easton.
‘We still have to play Bishop’s Waltham and Petersfield in the final five games.
‘This was a big win, though, because Bedhampton were sitting tight behind us and it sees us open up a gap on them.
‘The top of the league is very tight with four or five teams still very much in the mix.
‘I have resigned myself to a nail-biting finish that is going to go to the wire.’
The visitors won the toss and opted to bat on a pitch that played true despite it’s greenish surface.
Services, courtesy of two wickets for opening bowler Ryland Kelly, soon made inroads into the Bedhampton innings.
Kelly’s pace and accuracy made life difficult for the Mariners and he was ably assisted by the experienced Fraser Quirke and Easton (three for 35).
Mariners found themselves being squeezed in the middle overs and their runs dried up.
Wickets continued to fall regularly and off-spinner Harry Gadd (two for 28) helped dismiss the visitors for 125 runs.
Tom May and Gadd gave Services a solid platform at the start of their reply and it looked plain sailing for the hosts.
To their credit the Mariners’ bowlers came back at Services and made life difficult for them in the middle spell.
‘We thought it was going to be more straight forward than it was,’ said Easton.
‘It was a bit nervy in the later stages but in the end we had plenty of time, winning with about five overs to spare.’
Easton believes the club after a few difficult years are turning the corner and are ready for division one cricket again.
‘We have shown by beating Hungerford and Bedhampton in our past two games that we are up for it,’ said Easton.
‘After a couple of awkward seasons we feel division one is where we belong.
‘The club is stronger than it has been for a few years with a lot of good youngsters and a few experienced heads to help them.
‘There is still a lot of hard work to do if we are to make sure of promotion.’
Phil Baldock hit an impressive 118 and Harry McGhee fired 96 to steer leaders Bishop’s Waltham to a good 45-run success over Easton & Martyr Worthy.
Fellow title-chasers Petersfield were made to work hard before securing a 24-run win over bottom-club Bransgore.