Top-notch East Lothian duo Jamie Higgins and Derek Oliver kept them-selves in the firing line for national title glory with four impressive performances to emerge winners of the indoor bowls Scottish Pairs qualifying section staged at shared venues Bainfield and West Lothian.
The high-profile ‘garden county’ challengers currently have 6 and 21 caps to their name respectively and have impeccable previous form in the ‘4bowl pairs’ discipline with their names etched on the coveted silverware as national champions in season 2012/13. “It serves personal and club morale very well that we will carry the East Lothian banner into the Last Four stage of the championship to be played at Falkirk on the weekend of the second and third of April”, said Oliver.
The Christmas Time Joy and New Year Cheer generated as the reward for good clear-cut wins over Stirling, Abbeyview, Castlemilk, and a battling one over Tweedbank. The first two wins were achieved at The Hutchison Crossway stadium then having paraded their exciting brand of skills in the capital city their talents were exported to The Inveralmond stadium in Livingston.
The campaign trail was launched with a challenge from Stirling partnership George Young and Neil Robertson in the prelim round and the early signals from East Lothian were strong, and the final 27-10 win an encouraging one. First round opponents Stuart Pagan and Paul Brown of Abbeyview are stalwart figures of strong reputation but the Dunfermline based partnership eventually crumbled and bit the dust in a 20-12 onslaught from Higgins and Oliver.
The change of geography from Edinburgh to Livingston was taken in their stride by the challengers from The Alex Marshall Arena who winged their way into a 14-2 lead over the far travelled Willie Burns and Kenny Daly of Castlemilk, then confirmed their high-flying form with a 29-7 victory. The section final against the talented Kenny Johnstone and Ross Nicol of Tweedbank was no plane-sailing although that did look likely when Oliver skipped Higgins into a 10-0 lead after three ends, having carded 5, 1, 4. Sweat had formed on the brows of the much-fancied East Lothian partnership when the opposition closed to 14-13 however that menace was answered in bold fashion with fresh space made to 19-14 after 17-ends. The final outcome was back in some doubt at 19-17 with just two ends to play but the proven killer instinct of the EL duo prevailed to deliver a 2, 1 finish that clinched a 22-17 victory.
Meanwhile Midlothian IBC substituted their unavailable domestic champions, the Peacock brothers, with Ian Fleming and Andy Caldwell but the former Portobello stars failed to shine in a 21-15 exit to Abbeyview in the prelim round.
Play in the section hosted by Coatbridge brought early grief to the challengers from West Lothian, Balbardie, and Bainfield.
WL (Derek Hagart and Stuart Johnston) made a 22-14 exit to East Kilbride in the prelim round and were joined on the sidelines by Graham Keery and Gary Orr of Balbardie who lost 20-14 to Prestwick.
Bainfield’s Ian Burns and Mark Hewitt had a bye into the first round where they suffered a 19-11 defeat from Kilmarnock club Galleon.