STAWELL - Jackson Dark and his Central Highlands Region teammates were crowned Victorian Bushrangers under 18 male state champions in a nailbiting grand final against South East Bayside Breakers last weekend.
It was the first male pathway state championship for the Central Highlands since the complete merger of the country and metro regions in 2000-2001.
Dark, who plays for Swifts/Great Western in the Grampians Cricket Association, made his debut on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the premiership decider.
Sent out to bat first, Central Highlands got off to a blazing start before suffering a mid-order collapse, with the Breakers restricting the Highlanders to just 19 runs between overs 35 and 45.
Late hitting from all rounder Dark (26 not out) and Grant Trevenan (19), ensured the Highlands would post a defendable 7/203 from their 50 overs.
South East Bayside Breakers innings got off to a horror start, losing both opening batsmen for no runs.
It was left to the lower order to make the late runs.
The match went down to the wire with the Breakers needing a boundary off the final ball to claim victory.
It wasn't to be, with a run out to Highlanders Patrick McKenna enough for them to take away a memorable two run win.
Dark played all six matches in the series, taking four wickets and making a total of 72 runs.
His best bowling figures were 3/19 against Barwon Rockets on day one of the carnival and he contributed in the field with three catches.
The Swifts/Great Western all-rounder described playing on the MCG as 'surreal' and said the highlight for him personally was being not out at the end of the innings.
"Just being out there batting - It was unreal.
"At the end, it was a great (bowling) effort that got us over the line. Taking that last wicket and realising what had actually happened, we were so excited.
"It was good to be a part of the side."
Dark said while he prefers to bowl, he did enjoy batting over the week in what was his second year participating in the pathway championships.