THEY don’t come much closer than this.
Yet another nail-biting finish kept the spectators on the edge of their seats, with the initiative swinging both ways until the 52nd over of the home side’s innings, when Paul Butler hit the winning runs.
With Skegness struggling on 81 for seven the chances of them reaching the target of 168 seemed remote, but with help from David Jacobs and Marcello Santini, Butler rolled back the years to see his team over the line.
Even more importantly it helped lift them back to the top of the league.
In front of newly-appointed coach Paul Timby, things looked gloomy when Pete Houghton was run out by a sharp piece of fielding by bowler Connor Parsons three runs after becoming the first to hit 400 runs this season.
Oliver Pringle lasted just three balls before nicking one to wicketkeeper Jack Hughes. Then skipper Saeed Bariwala departed in similar fashion.
So, on 24 for three, Skegness turned to the pairing of Adrian Gordon and Sean Chamberlain to steady the ship. With plenty of overs to play with, they were patient, responsible and methodical and they put on a half century before Chamberlain pushed an easy catch back to spin bowler Daniel Milgate. Gordon followed soon afterwards when he became Hughes’s third victim behind the stumps.
Butler was due an innings, but it remained to be seen whether others could stay in at the other end to support him. Skegness still had half of their allotted overs left, plus the extra seven, earned by using only 43 to bowl out third placed Woodhall.
But it looked likely that the extra overs would prove to be a curse rather than a blessing when Alistair Ainsworth was bowled by Matthew Sargeant after facing just 13 balls, and Mark O’Dare was harshly adjudged lbw in the same over to make the score 81 for seven.
Skegness weren’t given a prayer by the sceptics, but Jacobs had other ideas and paired up with Butler for 14 overs, before falling to what appeared to be his favourite shot, guiding a short ball down to third man. Unfortunately, for him, he succeeded only in glancing it into the safe hands of Jack Luffman at slip.
Jacobs had been dogged and determined, concentrating on survival while Butler kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Could Marcello pick up the baton and keep out the lively Woodhall attack as Butler continued to reduce the deficit?
The answer was a resounding yes. The Skegness number 10 got his large frame in front of everything thrown at him to frustrate the visitors.
But still Woodhall were favourites. No-one in the Skegness camp dare believe that the winning total was within reach, especially when Santini was trapped lbw to end his stubborn 24-ball occupation of the crease.
This brought last man Steve Kirkham to the centre with a potential five balls to survive in order to get Butler on strike. But Kirkham had been in this position before and confidently stroked a single off what proved to be the only ball he faced.
The seasiders still needed 13 runs, reduced to nine when Butler hit Sargeant to the boundary to reach his 50. And when the visitors brought their men in deny the Skegness man a single to steal the strike, he used all his experience to pinch a three!
This denied Aussie Ben O’Brien a shot at Kirkham’s stumps. Instead Butler smacked the third ball of the over for four and, needing just two to win, pierced the field with another sweet shot to the leg side boundary, sparking jubilation from the home supporters.
On another day it would have left Butler on 62 not out, but as one sharp-eyed scorer pointed out, the batsmen had run the required two before the ball had crossed the boundary rope.
Earlier Woodhall Spa, having been put into bat, got off to a flier with Luffman and Ricky Lovelace putting on 61 in the first 11 overs.
Then Kirkham was brought into the attack, and when he was hit back over his head by Lovelace, that man Butler dived to his right to make the breakthrough with a catch.
Woodhall wicket keeper Jack Hughes had his middle stump split by a quick delivery from Oliver Pringle, who in his next over tempted Luffman into a hook, which Kirkham gratefully caught on the boundary.
Kirkham them removed O’Brien before Sargeant was adjudged to have been lbw to Bariwala.
Daniel Milgate’s cameo of 34 runs came to an end when Kirkham caught him off his own bowling.
On Saturday Skegness take their six point lead at the top of the table to ninth placed Grimsby, whose match at home to Bourne last weekend was abandoned because of the weather.
Results - Sleaford 112, Louth 113-8; Woodhall Spa 167, Skegness 168-9 (Butler 60no, Sargeant 5-42); Lindum 125-8, Hartsholme 101 (Bansal 5-15); Bourne 218-7 (Wilson 75, Morgan 66), Grimsby 118-6 – rain stopped play; Haxey 129, Boston 111-7 – rain stopped play; Market Deeping v Bracebridge Heath – cancelled, waterlogged pitch.
- Meanwhile, the Skegness 2nds’ match away to Bourne 2nds was abandoned.