The Bellingen Brewers came agonisingly close on Saturday to their first minor premiership. A 3-all draw in B grade against the Sawtell Dodgers saw them finish in a dead heat with the Woolgoolga Bluesox atop the ladder, but Woolgoolga took the minor premiership on head-to-head results against Bellingen.
After a scoreless first inning, Sawtell scored first, pushing one run across the plate in the top of the second. Bellingen levelled the scores in their half of the inning, as Cam Rutherford led off with a walk and came around to score on two stolen bases and a passed ball.
The Dodgers retook the lead with a single run in the top of the third inning and extended their lead to 3-1 with another run in the top of the fourth, with the Brewers putting runners aboard but unable to produce run-scoring hits. Sawtell threatened to extend their lead further in the top of the fifth inning, with their first two batters reaching base, but Bellingen turned an infield fly into a triple play to escape the inning unscathed.
Given that reprieve, the Brewers finally got on the board in the bottom half of the fifth. Matt Bryant led off with a single, then Mick Nelson and Rutherford walked to load the bases with none out. Luke Nelson's single drove in two runs to level the scores, but that was where the rally ended.
Pitcher Jon Lowe set down the Dodgers 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth inning, leaving Bellingen needing just a single run to capture the win and the minor premiership, but it wasn't to be. Braiden Spalding led off with a single, stole second, and advanced to third with one out after alertly tagging up on a fly out to left field, but the Brewers couldn't get him home.
The A grade match that followed was another low-scoring affair. The Dodgers managed a single run in the top of the first inning, then Bellingen matched that in the bottom half of the inning, with Lee Coltman's two-out single driving in Cooper Bake-Smith.
From there, the scoring dried up. Brewers pitcher Scott Hansen, with stellar defence behind him from Bake-Smith, Bryant and Spalding, retired Sawtell 1-2-3 the next three innings, but Bellingen was also was unable to crack the scoreboard.
Hansen ran his string of consecutive batters retired to 11 before a two-out walk in the top of the fifth inning opened the floodgates. Before the third out could be recorded, the Dodgers had scored four times and from there coasted home to a 6-1 win.
The CHBA finals get underway on Saturday. Bellingen will meet the Bluesox in the major semi-final, then the Coffs Harbour Allstars in the minor semi-final.