ARARAT - The Central Highlands under 18s have missed out on playing at the MCG by the slimmest of margins after tying its semi final of the Victorian Bushrangers Pathway Championship against Inner South East Scorpions.
Playing in a reduced 20-over game, the tied result saw the Scorpions progress through to the Final as the higher ranked team.
Having won the toss and electing to bat at Princess Park, the Central Highlands started well with Pat McKenna again shining with the bat.
The opening batsman piled on 70 off 43 balls, topping the tournament table with 324 and claiming the Highlands' record for the most runs in a series.
Buangor all-rounder Harry Ganley joined McKenna at the crease and set about building a solid partnership of 47 runs.
Ganley looked in good touch hitting two fours and notching up 15 runs from 21 balls before he became fast bowler Arron Wheatley's second victim of the day. Wheatley eventually finished with figures of 7/29.
Ararat batsmen Jacob Bates (1) and Matt North (4*) made it to the crease late in the innings, but could only add minor scores to the Central Highland's eventual total of 9/146.
In reply, Ganley and Bates combined for a stumping to remove Wheatley early in the innings, however a 66-run partnership from Josh Bartlett (51) and Nicholas Blaich (29) put the Scorpions in good stead.
Ganley again struck to see the opposition at 3/82, but the Highlanders missed some crucial opportunities in the field.
Another handy late innings partnership saw the Scorpions require three runs off the last ball to win and while the team could only manage two, the tie was enough for the Scorpions to advance through to the Championship Final at the MCG.
Central Highlands coach Paull Jeffrey said all players were upset to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
"It was unbelievably disappointing to lose in the way we did," he said.
"We went really well to make it to the semi final, and to be one of the top four teams in the state is fantastic, but a couple of critical errors cost us.
"We should be playing at the 'G. Everyone is really disappointed."
Jeffrey said Ganley performed fairly well at the top of the order during the week.
"He's a bit unlucky too because on a couple of occasions he was run out just when he looked to get going," he said.
"Harry did the team things well and he also opened the bowling for us in the last couple of games. Particularly in the third match he led the way."
Jeffrey said he was also impressed with Bates' glove work and North's bowling.
"Jacob kept well all week and I have to say I don't think he made one mistake with the gloves," he said.
"Matt I thought bowled fine also, so they all went pretty well.
"There are a lot of younger players on the team that are still eligible next year, so that is a good sign.
"I think we exceeded expectation, because we probably didn't have as good a team on paper this year as we did last year (when the Central Highlands won the Championship)."