Empingham are just champion after ending 21-year wait for title triumph

Empingham's Mark Stephenson.
Empingham's Mark Stephenson.
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Empingham ensured their first league title win since 1996 was completed in style as victory at Thorpe Arnold on Sunday secured the Grantham and Melton Association Division One crown.

Needing only three points to ensure success, the Rutlanders earned 18 in a low scoring encounter that was dominated by the bowlers.

The silverware caps a memorable campaign for the Rutlanders that has seen them win 18 of their 19 league games to date.

Victorious captain Henry Stephenson said: “We are delighted to get the win and secure the title.

“It’s been a special season for us with lots of different people putting in key performances along the way.

“We want to finish off in the same manner next week and then enjoy celebrating at our presentation evening on October 7.”

Bowling first on a wet track, Empingham’s seam attack produced a consummate performance to restrict their opponents to just 120-7 off their 40 overs.

The seven wickets meant that the Rutlanders had earned three bowling points, enough to secure them the title before they had even begun their innings.

The tone was set straight away by the perennially outstanding Stew Naylor (2-17) and Mark Stephenson (1-16).

Naylor picking up a wicket in each of his first two overs, as the swing supremo maintained his position as the league’s leading wicket taker with 26 to his name.

Yet again he was complimented by the metronomic Stephenson whose 20 wickets have come at an average of 10.55 this season, while he also boasts the best economy rate in the league.

The first change bowlers of Zak Treweek (1-19) and Rob McKevitt (2-20) were equally impressive, restricting the rate and picking up crucial middle order wickets.

The pair managed to extract life out of the soggy track, as they bent their backs and peppered a good length. Mckevitt’s 22nd wicket of the campaign took him to second place in the league standings while Treweek’s 14th was the pivotal one of Sam Woods, the Thorpe dangerman who had hit a century against Empingham in the reverse fixture.

With Thorpe’s innings urgently needing impetus, they threw the bat in the final few overs and, despite struggling to find the boundary, managed to limp towards a competitive 120-7, with Mark Starkey (30) and Ian Perry (24no) the highest scorers. Alfie Coward (1-38) with the final wicket.

Empingham’s chase was workmanlike with wickets falling regularly as no batsmen was able to fully get to grips with the challenging surface.

However, crucial contributions throughout the order, meant that victory always seemed most likely.

John Chell (26) and Jordan Haworth (26) provided the most sizeable of those contributions, as the top order duo got Empingham ahead of the rate with two mature innings, after key man Cooper (1) had been run out.

McKevitt (20) took Empingham to within 25 runs of victory but two superb spells from George Exton (2-20) and Joe Anderson (2-23) kept the Melton side well in the contest.

It was left to youngsters Coward (14) and Treweek (16no) to lead the Rutlanders home, as the pair struck a few powerful blows to finish the tie in the 37th over just before the heavens opened.

With 357 points out of possible 380, Empingham will look to provide a fitting finale to a memorable season, as they host league runners up British Shoe next week.

The match will also see the final pitch that talismanic Mal Smith will prepare at Exton Road, after 10 years as their award winning groundsman.