An injection of youth has revitalised a Strathdale Maristians side that captain Ben DeAraugo says is driven to claim yet another BDCA flag.
The Suns have enjoyed an imperious run in recent seasons, largely predicated on a cumulative experience of big games and success, a trait on show this weekend against Sandhurst in the First XI grand final.
But for all that experience, a handful of youngsters have been vital in regenerating the Suns from a side that was crushed in last year’s semi-final to a team that hasn’t lost a match since November of this season.
The likes of James Vlaeminck, Daniel Clohsey and Jack Neylon have all stepped up this year, a factor DeAraugo believes can influence the side’s older players.
“We’re really lucky that at our club we’ve got a great junior program and a group of people that put in a lot of work into that program to make sure we’ve got the next batch of players coming through,” he said.
“When they get to senior cricket – which we’ve talked to James and Daniel especially about this year – it’s because they’re ready.
“We’re not just throwing them in to give them a go, we are playing them because they are genuine first XI players.
“In terms of sustainability that’s how we want it to be, and for them to come in and perform for us at senior level has been amazing.”
Vlaeminck and Clohsey have shared A-grade and under-18 duties, as they will this weekend with both sides in grand finals.
Vlaeminck, the younger of the pair, has opened the batting in the senior side and made 421 runs at 32 and opened the bowling in several T20 games.
Neylon has made 317 runs while holding down the number three spot and Baillie has played every game for the side this year after being on the fringe in past seasons.
That quartet has provided valuable support for a spine as strong as ever, led by first-year skipper DeAraugo (463 runs at 46), premiership captain Linton Jacobs (327 runs at 27, 20 dismissals as wicketkeeper), all-rounder Sam Johnston (357 runs and 25 wickets), quick Jake DeAraugo (19 wickets at 18) and the typically brilliant Cam Taylor (269 runs at 24 and 37 wickets at 16.7).
Throw veterans Ryan Haythorpe and Nick Baker into the mix and the Suns have experience in spades.
“I think there’s certainly that calmness and composure that we certainly hope to bring this weekend. As a team and as a club, most of us have been there together,” DeAraugo said.
And while their opponents have a far younger profile than the Suns, DeAraugo knows all too well what Howard and the Dragons bring to the table.
In their lone meeting this season, Sandhurst chased down 312 at Bell Oval to make 8/370 in a statement win. In a twist of irony, that game marked the last time Strathdale suffered an A-grade loss, a result DeAraugo and his charges hope to reverse at the QEO this – or possibly next – weekend.
“The challenge for our batters is to be able to adapt and get through various periods when they’re going to be trying lots of different spin options, but Beard, Keck and Gladman are three of the best medium pace and quicks getting around as well,” he said.
“Similar to us in the batting, they have a lot of depth. We’re not expecting to skittle them and have an easy weekend, we know it’s going to be a fight until late on the second day.
“Who knows when that is, whether it’s Sunday or over Easter with the weather, but we know it’s going to be a battle and we need to be prepared for any situation.”
The BDCA B-grade grand final between Eaglehawk and Bendigo United will be played at North Bendigo, Eaglehawk plays Huntly North Epsom in C-Grade at Weeroona Oval and Strathfieldsaye plays Strathdale in the under-18 final at Huntly.
– Joel Peterson