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Stoke 41 Heathens 54 (Heathens win 98-84 on aggregate)
11:33pm Wednesday 10th October 2012 in Sport
DUDLEY Heathens powered into the National League Grand Final with a stunning win at Stoke.
The Heathens won 12 of 15 heats to claim a 54-41 win on the night, clinching the two-legged semi final 98-84 on aggregate.
Joe Haines scored a 15-point maximum as the visitors bounced back from their disastrous showing in last night’s first leg.
Ashley Birks, normally dominant around the Loomer Road track, fell twice as Stoke’s challenge wilted in the face of the Heathens onslaught.
The first of those falls occurred in the very first heat, giving Haines and Darryl Ritchings the chance to kickstart the visitors’ evening with a 5-1.
Birks had set the tone by winning the first heat at Monmore on Tuesday and he did so tonight – but not in the way he would have wanted.
Less than a day had passed since the Heathens were blighted by crashes and mechanical problems but with all the hand-wringing and soul searching, it felt like months. Common consensus had the tie over, with a Stoke win a mere formality.
I guess this is why they hold the meetings.
The 5-1 victory in the first heat brought belief flooding back to the riders and also the travelling faithful.
By the end it wasn’t even close, the Heathens securing an aggregate win which will live long in the memory with two races to spare.
Having wrested the momentum, the Heathens scored wins in the first five heats before Birks had the chance to respond with Stoke’s first victory of the night.
The visitors responded with 5-1s in the next two races to build a 13 point aggregated lead which the hosts never looked like overhauling, despite tactical rides from Birks and James Cockle cutting the gap.
Cockle, Reade and Lee Geary, who all performed so well at Monmore, could find no answer to the rampant Heathens.
By the time Reade and Liam Rumsey secured their first heat advantage without tactical assistance in the penultimate race it was already over, Haines having held off Birks for three-and-half laps in the previous heat before the Stoke rider crashed out for the second time.
STOKE 41: James Cockle 9+1, Ashley Birks 9, Ben Reade 8+1, Tony Atkin 7, Lee Geary 4+2, Liam Rumsey 2+1, Liam Carrr 2.
DUDLEY 54: Joe Haines 15, Tom Perry 12, Ashley Morris 11+1, Darryl Ritchings 10+2, Dan Greenwood 6+2, Tommy Fenwick 0, Byron Bekker r/r.