THE four Bendigo District Cricket Association teams vying for two finals spots face the most crucial game of the season this weekend.
Bendigo, Sandhurst, Kangaroo Flat and Eaglehawk are all fighting for the bottom two final four spots over the last three rounds of the season.
With three two-day games remaining, the spread between Bendigo and Eaglehawk is 15 points, meaning third through sixth places are up for grabs.
Kangaroo Flat sits on 30 points, within three games of top side Strathdale Maristians, while White Hills remains a mathematical but extremely unlikely finals chance in seventh.
This weekend’s round of matches is perhaps the most crucial of the season, with each side playing a team currently in the BDCA’s top four.
Sandhurst hosts Bendigo, while fifth-placed Kangaroo Flat is away to second-placed Golden Square and sixth-placed Eaglehawk plays the ladder leading Strathdale Maristians at the QEO.
A Bendigo win and a Kangaroo Flat loss would make the Goers’ return to finals all but a certainty, barring outright results along the way.
A Sandhurst win would place the Dragons a minimum of nine points above the sides outside the four with two matches to play, that could be 15 points if both the Hawks and Roos lose.
The Dragons could be even more comfortable if not for a six-point penalty imposed upon them after their match against the Roos earlier in the season.
The three-week stretch serves as an opportunity for Sandhurst and Bendigo to finally deliver on the promise they have shown in recent seasons and finish in a finals spot.
For reigning premier Eaglehawk and another 2017 finallist in Kangaroo Flat, missing out on action in late March would represent severe disappointments.
Both have been cruelled by recent matches being called off due to wet weather and heat.
The Roos’ strong bowling lineup will have to carve through Golden Square’s imposing top order to be any chance of a much-needed win.
After a 0-3 start, Eaglehawk has won three of its past four matches that have ended with a result, the only loss coming in a last-ball thriller against Bendigo.
The Hawks will have to reign in their bowling after conceding 26 extras to the Goers in a loss that gave their finals chances a big hit.
Both Bendigo and Sandhurst play Huntly North Epsom in the run home, with Bendigo’s the match against Golden Square and Sandhurst to play Eaglehawk in the season’s final fortnight.
Along with the Dragons, Eaglehawk plays second bottom side Strathfieldsaye, while Kangaroo Flat plays White Hills and Strathdale Maristians.
This weekend’s other matches see Bendigo United play White Hills and Strathfieldsaye against Huntly North Epsom.