In early February, North Sydney Oval was the scene of an epic Regional Bash grand final which culminated in the ACT Aces leveling the score over rivals the Coffs Coast Chargers.
Aces captain and Goulburn native Kelly Rowlings said the win "meant a lot", particularly after Canberra's loss in the 2019/20 final.
"We'd been working hard together as an ACT unit throughout this year's extended preseason and I feel we were a much stronger team in that regard compared to the year before when we fell short," Rowlings said.
"We also lost a few of our selected squad due to school and work commitments that couldn't be avoided on such short notice, so I think we did well to get 11 players together to start with."
The Regional Bash is the premier NSW T20 competition for non-metropolitan teams. The grand final win secured the ACT's first title in the competition, and simultaneously handed Coffs its first ever loss.
Both the semi-finals and the grand final were played on February 8. After the Aces managed to defend their small total of 88 in the first final against Orana, Rowlings was aware that the Chargers were heavy favourites going into the final.
In a stroke of good fortune, the ACT won the toss and elected to bowl first on a wicket which had been difficult earlier in the day.
"[The pitch] was a lot better in the afternoon and night, much more consistent than it was in the morning," Rowlings said.
"That's probably reflected in our batting performances as well, we struggled in the morning and didn't set a very respectable total. It was dewy and very muggy in the morning, but unfortunately I lost the toss and we got sent in.
"Luckily our bowlers are elite and we managed to defend it while bowling Orana out for 59, so we could capitalise in the final under lights. The outfield at North Sydney also got quicker as it dried out over the day so there was much more value for shots."
Despite the easier conditions later in the day, batting was slow going for Coffs as it compiled a total of 4-105 from its 20 overs.
Monica Gair was the pick of Canberra's bowlers, with 2-22 from four overs, while Rowlings also chipped in with a wicket.
"I didn't think 105 was enough, but cricket is a funny game and it proved more difficult than I expected," Rowlings said.
"Coffs bowled well and had some accurate fields set, and took some of our biggest wickets cheaply through pressure, so it was a competitive game. I knew if we took it to the death and had 1 of the top five batters still in that we'd get over the line and make it one all with Coffs for the title."
Despite her confidence during the innings break, Rowlings had to steady the ship for the Aces earlier than she had hoped.
She came to the wicket with the score at 2-42, and Canberra soon lost another to be left reeling at 3-47.
Where many might have been overwhelmed by the pressure, Rowlings said her role as captain spurred her to dig in.
"I like to break down the task and set smaller goals when faced with a pressure situation like that," she said.
"I knew we had to pin the run rate back down so I needed to find some boundaries and keep ticking it over. The responsibility of captaincy reminds me that it needs to be me who stands up and takes control of the game, so it sort of lights a fire and really enhances my focus in those sorts of pressure situations."
After Rowlings settled in, the Aces reached the target with six wickets and three balls to spare. Her 38 not out guided Canberra to its first Regional Bash victory, and it was made all the more memorable by the support Rowlings and her teammates received.
"A lot of our friends and family were watching from home or were there at the ground, including my dad, so it was great to get the win in front of them as well. We're all very grateful for their support," she said.
With hindsight, Rowlings said, much of the credit for the ACT's win must go to the bowlers.
"I think our fielding and bowling efforts really stood up all day," she said. "We defended a sub-par total in the morning against Orana, who have a very experienced and strong batting line-up.
"Our bowlers executed to clear plans and made it very easy for me to set aggressive fields and pin back the opposition with some pressure.
"I'm really proud of the standard of play we produced and the way we carried ourselves as a unit."
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