Herefordshire trio Kate Williams (Weston), John Mills (Woolhope) and Joe Loveys (Gorsley) added to their list of fine performances in the National Mixed Fours, reaching the Semi-Final and losing on a heartbreaking measure having drawn the game and gone to an extra-end.
Joined this year by late replacement Sophie Heather-Warner (Gorsley), making her national debut in place of the unavailable Shirley Cox (Woolhope) , the team had tempered expectations as to whether they would be able to reclaim the National Title they won in 2020 and narrowly lost out on in 2022 following another extra-end semi-final defeat.
Following a successful group stage in the morning at Solihull IBC, the first knockout round (Round of 32) saw an incredibly close game against a strong Hampshire team. A tight last end saw Hampshire require two for victory but a strong start from Heather-Warner and Williams, followed by some solid blocking by Mills and Loveys kept Hampshire down to one, giving Herefordshire a 9-8 victory. Wiltshire awaited them in the Round of 16, giving a potential preview to the upcoming Inter County Championship Semi-Final between the Counties, also to be held at Solihull at the end of March. Herefrodshire started strongly but the Wiltshire rink grew into the game. Requiring three to draw and four to win, the Wiltshire skip fired the jack into the ditch to give them three before drawing in to secure the four. Firing with his last wood, Loveys was able to steer the team away from trouble by removing two of the Wiltshire bowls, securing another tight victory of 7-6.
The Quarter-Finals presented the toughest task of the day thus far, facing off against a formidable Cheshire team, skipped by England International Adam Smith, with former England Manager Brandon Whittaker at three. Starting in true Herefordshire fashion, the team dropped a five on the first end before fighting back to claim a four on the second. Hereforshire pushed on to a commanding position, with Cheshire requiring five off the last end. Despite a marginal scare, Smith was forced to launch an aggressive fire to kill the end with his final wood but jumped the fender, giving Herefordshire a 15-7 victory and booking them a place in the Semi-Finals against Essex.
The Semi-Final lived up to the billing, with a nip and tuck game not allowing either team into the ascendancy. Herefordshire found themselves 6-5 up going into the final end. Despite a strong performance from each player, Essex were able to take a one and not play their final bowl to take the match to an extra end. This continued in the same vein, with strong bowling across the board leaving a very tight head before the skips bowled. With last wood, Herefordshire found themselves one down but with a chance of victory. A fire by Loveys sprang the Jack towards the waiting Herefordshire wood and despite initially thinking Essex would concede, their Skip asked for a measure which, following an agonising wait, saw Herefordshire miss out on the final by the smallest margin possible, the Umpire’s measure rocking both woods but ultimately falling closer to the Essex bowl.
The HSMBA sends its congratulations to the team on another fantastic result for Herefordshire at Nationals and looks forward to reporting on the further national competitions in the coming weeks.