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Promotion race hotting up
With Thornaby finally relegated for a fourth time in 16 seasons, and Normanby Hall looking the most likely to join them, the spotlight has been turned onto the clubs who have become favourites to replace them next season.
Division one's top two, Bishop Auckland and Marske, both relegated in the last two seasons, have beaten their main rivals Seaton Carew - the Seasiders on Saturday and Bishops a week ago - to put themselves comfortably ahead of the field.
Their meeting on the last day of the season could decide who becomes champions rather than which team rejoins the Premier Division.
Meanwhile, Sedgefield extended their cushion over Normanby to 30 points even though they, like their rivals, lost for the 11th time. The season's final game, when they meet, could turn into a relegation decider.
The championship could also go down to the wire after the three contenders won by varying margins.
Leaders Richmondshire had the toughest fight as Great Ayton took them to within ten balls of forcing a draw which would have taken points from them.
Ayton, who had beaten them six days previously in the Fifteens final, took more runs off their opponents than most have managed.
With half centuries from Chris Batchelor and David Grainge they reached 201-9 having taken the sting out of the bowling of Shani Dissanayake (3-49), Craig Swainston (2-41) and Craig Marshall (2-81).
Richmond paced their reply well despite losing top run maker Gary Pratt for 28 and, with James Clarkson getting 50 before he was next out, it was left to Mike Layfield with defiant 76 to out-manoeuvre their visitors.
Dissanayake (33 not out) was able to finish the job even though he had to work especially hard for the final 20 runs as the overs began to run out.
Shani hit just three boundaries as he became the match winner from the second ball of the 49th over as the Dalesmen won by six wickets.
Second-placed Darlington, 16 points adrift, enjoyed an excellent batting display after their customary tight bowling restricted Sedgefield to 156 even though they lost only three wickets.
Steve Naylor (73 not out from 141 balls) shared a second wicket partnership of 98 with Richie Hawthorne (58 from 125 balls) before the Quakers took control to win by seven wickets.
Stumper James Dobson (46 no) and Liam Coates (43 no) shared an 82-ball stand worth 75 runs to see them home.
Third-placed Marton, 26 points behind the leaders who they have to play on the season's penultimate weekend, had their biggest win of the summer when they crushed Stokesley.
Upul Indrasiri (3-18), Danny Wade (2-18) and Tom Reid (2-31) shared 28 of the overs to restrict their hosts to a disappointing 141-8. Marton won by ten wickets as Wally Ghauri hit a swashbuckling 96 from 102 balls and Lee Hodgson (38) got the winning boundary with 32 overs used.
Ghauri, twice in the nervous 90's recently although he cracked a century in a representative match, was at his best as he hit 13 fours and a six. Hodgson hit five boundaries and faced 94 balls.
Controversy followed the finish of Middlesbrough's visit to Guisborough where the contest was ended early due to bad light with the home side needing nine to win with five overs remaining.
James Lowe hit 91 including a partnership of 101 with Adil Ditta (41) as Boro reached 233-4.
Then he grabbed three wickets as the Priory club replied with 225-6 with Richie Evans (82 from 108 balls) and Graham Murray (44 from 46 balls). Stuart Lobb was unbeaten on 35 when the match was called off in the 45th over.
Normanby Hall managed 130 against Redcar who won by nine wickets as Tom Urwin made 65 in a century stand with Callum Brown (44 no), while Thornaby made 184-6, one of their biggest totals all season, and still lost by five wickets to Saltburn.
There were half centuries for Danny Burns and Bathiya Perera.
Barnard Castle lost again as Jon Rickard hit a season's best of 96 for Hartlepool, winners by eight wickets. Aamar Sajjad, like Middlesbrough's Lowe, reached the milestone of 1,000 league runs joining Pratt, the Richmond pro, who had already passed the target.
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