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Reigning premiers East Ballarat is out of the first grade top four with three rounds of the home and away season remaining.
The Hawks slumped to fifth on the Ballarat Cricket Association ladder following Saturday's loss to Wendouree, which broke back inside the finals bracket.
The result was East's second-straight defeat and leaves the team three points behind the Red Caps.
A score of 171 wasn't enough for the Hawks at CE Brown Reserve as the home side chased down the target with four wickets and more than four overs in hand.
Kyle Eyers made 36 in his A-grade debut for East while Jarrod Blandford managed 41 to give the visitors something to bowl at in the afternoon.
But the powerful Red Caps order never really had any trouble hauling in the score, with Cole Roscholler (41), skipper Gavin Webb (30) and Heath Pyke (36 not out) batting the team to victory.
Sam Peeters also had a great day out for the winners, taking four wickets.
While East Ballarat is now fifth, the side will be confident of beating Buninyong and Napoleons-Sebastopol in upcoming two-day games before a final-round showdown with Mt Clear. The road is perhaps a little bit harder for Wendouree, which has Golden Point, Darley and North Ballarat.
The weekend's victory was a vital one according to Webb, who felt finals would have been a tough ask had it suffered defeat.
"If we lost that we were probably nearly done, looking at results and points," Webb said.
"It was just a hard-fought win, nothing flash at all. It was a bit of a grind from both sides really."
Darley kept its unbeaten record in tact on Saturday, but not without a little scare from bottom side Napoleons-Sebastopol.
The Lions batted first at Darley Park and made 8-153 thanks to solid knocks from Danza Hyatt (34), Jake Wilkie (42) and Hasitha Wickramasinghe (35 not out).
It looked a get-able target for the visitors, but Darley bowled tight enough through the course of 50 overs to restrict its rivals to 8-134.
There were some solid scores from Naps-Sebas batsmen, with Oliver Rogoff's 32 leading the way.
Darley remains 12 points clear at the top of the table, with Mt Clear holding down second on the back of Saturday's success against North Ballarat.
The Mounties were emphatic winners against the Roosters, which were bowled out for 132 inside 34 overs.
North Ballarat had been chasing Mt Clear's 9-247, which came on the back of half centuries by Matt Goonan (74) and Jarrod Burns (62).
Leigh Lorenzen managed four wickets with the ball for North, but could only score 20 with the bat as the side disappointed in the run chase.
New captain Mick Nolan continued his strong form with the Roosters' top score of 45, while his counterpart Darcy Thomson did the bulk of the damage with 5-48.
Over at Alfredton, Ballarat-Redan made it back-to-back wins with a narrow victory against Buninyong.
Opening batsman Zac Jenkins made 80 at the top of the order to lead the Two Swords to a strong total of 7-201 from their 50 overs.
Half centuries from captain-coach Liam Brady (51) and Harry Bond (56) helped the Bunnies give the chase a real shake, but their side could only reach 9-195 by the time stumps were pulled.
Mitch Aikman and Jayden Hayes both took three wickets each for the winners.
The final game of round 12 saw Golden Point get the points against Brown Hill at the Western Oval.
Josh Pegg (54) and Andrew Falkner (86) put together a century opening stand to provide the platform for the Pointies, which eventually chalked up 7-233.
Jason Knowles (55) and Imesh Udayanga (63) put together a 90-run fourth-wicket partnership to breathe life into the Bulls' chase, but the team ultimately fell 22 runs short of victory.