Hutt Valley High School begin a cricket adventure this weekend.
The Hutt Valley first XI will meet Scots College in the Wellington premier youth one-day final at the Petone Rec on Sunday, before heading to Christchurch three days later for the national Gillette Cup competition.
It will be an exciting period for Hutt Valley, who will be making their first appearance in the Gillette Cup finals.
They will meet defending champions King's College in the opening round next Thursday and will also come up against Palmerston North Boys' High, Otago Boys', Christchurch Boys' and St Peter's School from Cambridge.
Hutt Valley and St Peter's are the two co-ed schools in the tournament and it will be the first Gillette appearance for both.
St Peter's, who defeated Tauranga Boys' and Hamilton Boys' to win the Northern Districts competition, are led by their gifted year 12 wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Seifert, who scored three centuries in the space of eight days this month.
Seifert, 17, played for the Northern Knights in a warmup Twenty20 match against Wellington this season and has also been a New Zealand under-18 hockey representative.
King's College have won the Gillette Cup for the past two years, though they no longer have standout players Simon Hickey and Ben Horne, and their skipper, Ben Chapman, will miss the tournament through injury.
Hutt International finished fourth at Gillette last year but Wellington teams have generally struggled in recent years. St Pat's Silverstream won the tournament in 1996 and Wellington College were successful in 2001 but since then no Wellington school has finished better than fourth.
"Christchurch will be a huge challenge for us," Hutt Valley coach Angus Devine said. "None of us has been before and we will learn a tremendous amount by being down there.
"But if we play our best cricket we will be difficult to put away.
"We will have to be very good in all three departments - batting, bowling and fielding - and you are not going to bowl sides out cheaply [on the Lincoln pitches]. I would think a par score would be at least 220.
"But I'm confident that if we play our best cricket we can be competitive and hard to beat."
Hutt Valley will have had their confidence boosted by beating Wellington College last weekend and Sunday's clash with Scots, who are the defending premier one champions, will also serve as an ideal leadup to the Gillette Cup tournament.
Hutt Valley have shown an ability to scrap their way out of tight situations and the pattern was repeated against Wellington College.
Wellington looked in control when Hutt Valley, who were chasing 213 to win, were 102-5 in the 33rd over.
However, Hutt Valley did not lose another wicket as Matthew Pike and Mitchell Blucher put on an unbeaten partnership of 111 for the sixth wicket, in less than 14 overs.
Pike, one of two year 11 players in the team, upstaged older brother Jarrod when hitting six fours and four sixes on his way to 59 not out from 45 balls. It was Pike's first 50 for the first XI and just one run short of matching his career best score.
"It was a bit of a slogfest but we had to try to get a few runs quickly," Pike said. "It was a pretty good feeling when we got the win."
The Pike family provided almost half of Hutt Valley's runs with opener Jarrod, who has been the team's leading runscorer this year, making 44.
Blucher, who was 42 not out, is better known for his bowling but also played a vital part with the bat when Hutt Valley beat HIBS in the Wellington region Gillette Cup final in March.
Wellington College will have rued failing to bat out their 50 overs last weekend, losing their last five wickets in less than five overs and leaving Nik Swain, who batted at No 4, stranded on 69 not out in the 47th over.
Myles Price Moor picked up three wickets for Hutt Valley and spinner Sushant Balajee was a key factor when going for just 26 runs from his 10 overs.
The victory left Hutt Valley as the top qualifier in the one-day competition, two points clear of Wellington College and Scots.
Scots, who beat the Wellington College second XI last weekend, went through to the final as a result of beating Wellington College in their most recent match and also had a superior run rate.
"Scots will provide a stern challenge," Devine said.
"They are a good side and have probably been the best-performed team this term."
Scots skipper Toby Barton is happy with his team's form going into the final. "Most of our batting lineup are in form and if the bowlers do their job, we should be hard to beat.
"We played badly in the Gillette tournament [in March] but I think we are as good as any team in the competition.
"Two years ago, no one expected us to be in this position [making successive premier one finals] and we want to prove that last year's win [against Wellington College], when we were the definite underdogs, wasn't a fluke."
Scots will also contest the premier one Twenty20 final, against Wellington College on December 8, and the two finals will give their year 13 players - Barton, Paddy Gluck, Andrew Graham, Jason Hodge and Tim Rowe - a chance to end their school careers on a high note.
Graham conceded just 15 runs from his 10 overs against the Wellington second XI and fellow off- spinner Josh Lawrence took 2-23 from 10 overs before making 59 not out with the bat.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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