Western's McDonald's Country Cricket NSW Championship hopes were all but scuttled with a round one loss to Illawarra on Friday but it went from bad to worse as the baggy blues were comfortably beaten on days two and three of their Southern Pool campaign as well.
After letting a win slip by them against Illawarra and then being handed a three-wicket defeat by ACT-Southern Districts, Western were absolutely hammered by Riverina in Sunday's third and final round to finish winless on the bottom of the Southern Pool.
But for some strong individual showings there was little solace to salvage from the disappointing weekend, which extends Western's run without a final berth to three seasons. The last time they made the decider was back in 2016-17, when they won it.
This is just a different level of cricket ... they got away from us.Western skipper Jameel Qureshi
"There'll be a lot of learning going on, but it was a good experience for a lot of the guys playing for the first time," Western skipper Jameel Qureshi said.
"That first day against Illawarra was probably the hardest match. They had a lot of good cricketers in their side. We had them in a bit of trouble earlier on but they dug deep, played some good cricket and got themselves out of it."
Elliot Hooper proved Western's bane on Friday as he punched 84 and then snared 3-26 to inspire Illawarra's 65-run win, which they salvaged after being 4-38 early in their innings.
Illawarra, who ultimately went through undefeated and booked a spot in the final against Newcastle, eventually made 225 and skittled Western for 160.
Robbie Trickett proved the villain on Saturday as he blasted 113 from just 96 balls to lead ACT-Southern Districts' successful chase, they ran down Western's 7-255 with three wickets and a touch over two overs to spare.
Then on Sunday, Brayden Ambler and Tom Johnson took the game away from Western with a huge opening stand. Qureshi's troops posted a reasonably competitive 8-234, but Ambler (95) and Johnson (69) put on 178 for the first wicket to set up Riverina's easy, eight-wicket win.
"Myles Smith got a good 90 on Sunday and Connor Slattery, Mitch Taylor, Ed Morrish and Mat Skinner all bowled well, but this is just a different level of cricket," Qureshi said.
"They just got away from us."
Although few and far between there were some highlights for the baggy blues.
James Larkin made an unbeaten 92 from just 79 balls against ACT-Southern Districts and Myles Smith made 90 from 84 the next day against Riverina.
Qureshi, Ed Morrish, Matt Stephen, Mitch Taylor and Mat Skinner all picked up three-wicket hauls at different stages as well, but the Western side simply never made enough runs.
Illawarra face Northern Pool champions Newcastle in the 2019-20 decider on November 17.
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