Match of the Week: Mashers aim to repeat Bideford skittles miracle
IT HAD been described by the league secretary as "the most incredible finish to a match I have ever seen".
Others agreed. "After I'd picked myself up off the floor ..." said the losing team's captain, his self-mocking laugh preventing him finishing his sentence.
"Had the roles been reversed, we would have thought we were home and dry," said the winning team's skipper.
Such were the reflections on the Miracle on Bridgeland Street.
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Just two weeks on, there was a chance to do it all over again.But the miracle workers had lost their powers.
When the Bideford Skittles League's top two teams met on Monday, it ended in a 390-375 victory for leaders Langtree B over second-placed Mashers.
Needing a difficult but not impossible 88 to win in the last of six rubs, Mashers' first four players totalled 47 to set Andrew Braunton and Paul Murch a combined target of 41.
A fortnight earlier they had scored 42 to snatch victory for Mashers over Wallabies at the Conservative Club in Bridgeland Street, Bideford.
Steve Schiller, Wallabies player and league secretary, wrote on the league website: "We left them 65 to win and, when their first four players had mustered only 31, we started to celebrate a victory."
But then Braunton scored a double flopper 24 – all nine pins down with successive balls, followed by a six – and Murch a first-ball flopper 18 to complete a comeback from 41 pins down after two of the six rubs.
Mark Milton, the Mashers captain, said: "We have had a lot of close games over the years but I can't think of anything as dramatic as that."
John Gordon, the Wallabies captain, said: "It was quite a finish, the last two fellas were just amazing. They took our feet out from under us. Great skittles."
A skittler for 30 years, Gordon said the comeback ranked top of those he had seen.
There were, though, mitigating circumstances for his side's defeat.
"We have been struggling this year because we have lost two good players," said Gordon. "One, Dave Morris, passed away, then our captain, Colin Trathen, packed up due to workload."
Now here Mashers were again, seeking to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Playing on their home alley at Lovacott Village Hall, Mashers led 177-175 after three rubs.
As all six players in the Langtree B team picked up their game in the second half, especially 67-year-old Roger Vanstone, the visitors built an 11-pin lead going into the last rub.
They maintained the pressure with a collective 76 but Milton kept Mashers' hopes alive with a 16 as first man on.
Nines from Alastair Westaway and Will Cooke, and 13 from Matthew Boucher, left Braunton and Murch needing another miracle.
Braunton managed only eight, meaning even a maximum 27 from Murch would not be enough.
"It was a bit of a tall order," said Braunton, 32. "I chucked a good first ball that looked like a flooring ball (nine pins down) but it left a straight two and a winger. That's skittles – sometimes they go, sometimes they don't."
Murch, 52, has been playing since he was 17 and has found the reaction to the turnaround at the Conservative Club quite something.
"It just travels on the grapevine – they have all been talking about it," he said. "I seem to thrive on the pressure. That is why we tend to want to play second. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
At Lovacott it didn't. "We never give up until it's out of reach," said Murch. "But it is not often you see 27s – or double floppers come to that."
And that name – Mashers – where did it come from? Part inspiration, part potato.
"About 16 or 17 years ago, when we started, we came up with a load of different names," said Milton.
"We looked at the names of good teams and thought, 'What can we take from them?'
"One of us came up with Masters but that sounded too big-headed. So we went to Mashers because some of our team used to grow potatoes."
Langtree B's victory on Monday consolidated their position at the top of the league and captain Colin Larkworthy said: "To come here and get two points is a bonus because they are a good team.
"The percentage of us getting points here is not that high so it was a good win for us to beat them on their home alley."
He was taking nothing for granted as Mashers began their last rub.
"They had to get 88 to win and it was within their capabilities because they are a good side," said the skipper.
Good, but not as good as Langtree B. And not just on this night.
Langtree B have finished top of the league, which at present comprises 89 teams over six divisions, six times in the last eight seasons.
Not that Mashers do not have their own claim to a startling league statistic.
Starting in the seventh division in the 1990s, they won six successive titles to land in the first division.
They almost won that at the first attempt, too, but lost out by a point to Allsorts.
"We have won the league once – that was three years ago – and we have been runners-up nearly every other year," said Milton. "But we are not as good as we used to be. We have lost one or two of our better players and we have been lucky this season – we have not played the so-called bigger teams.
"We have a hard run of fixtures coming up and it will probably catch up with us."
But the Miracle on Bridgeland Street will always be with them.