REIGNING champions Newton Abbot Batmen beat a struggling Full of Beans team and held current leaders Halwell A to a draw to put themselves into a prime position at the top of South Devon & Torbay Table Tennis League's Division One, writes Alan Maynard.
They lie just two points behind their rivals Halwell with a game in hand.
With Batmen's number one Dennis Gibbs out on coaching duty, it was up to his son Shaun, division two recruit Chris Womack and regular team member Nick Halse to take on Halwell's Mick Atkinson, Rod Sugden and Dave Wadling in the battle at the top.
Epic battles between Gibbs and Wadling and Halse and Atkinson, in which the Halwell players emerged victorious 11-9 in the fifth, meant Halwell were poised for victory with two to play.
However, Gibbs was able to beat Sugden in three to narrow the gap and, together with Nick Halse, secure a doubles win in four against Wadling and Atkinson to claim the draw.
Halwell again failed in opportunities against the other team in contention for the title, Brixham Gulls, as they lost three of the first four games in five legs against Joe Clifford Jnr, Brian Pengelly and David White. Pengelly was the man of the match that night winning all three to come away 6-4 winners. Just three points separate the three teams at the top in the closest-run title chase in years.
Marldon suffered a bad week with crushing blows against Newton Knights who have now jumped four places up the table in less than two weeks, and Taverners who are only one point behind Knights in fifth spot.
Newton Knights were able to take eight points away from their travels to Brixham in a closer match than the score suggests. Three of the games went to five, with Knights winning them all. Only Trawlers' Terry Stead was able to claim any points for the home side, while Chris Baron was able to win all three in Trawlers' clash against Full of Beans in a tight draw at Bishopsteignton.
In Division Two, Denbury's Tykes are raising all eyebrows as they catapulted themselves from fifth to second place in the table with 7-3 and 9-1 wins against Marldon Millers and 21 Up respectively.
Pat Darch led the march emerging unbeaten in both matches but only just as Millers' Nigel Hunt took him to deuce in the fifth leg before Darch was able to claim the match 12-10. Kevin Ayling only dropped one game, and it was Nigel Hunt again who took the Tykes' player to five and this time dug in to win the leg 11-9.
Dawlish Aces remain way ahead at the top, four points clear but with two games in hand over Tykes. Aces' Steve Cooper, Dave Davies and Ed Crawford were able to see off a struggling Brixham Sharks team 10-0 to keep on top spot.
Sharks' new signing Dave Friend was able to claim two points at home against Division Two contenders Newton Abbot Academicals, beating Chris Womack and Doug Morgan but unable to make a mark on the steady defensive play of the unbeaten Jim McIvor who again notched another maximum. Halwell B found themselves 4-0 down against a resurgent Marldon Millers team as their charge for the top took a wobble. Millers' Nigel Hunt, Stephen Godbeer and new signing Alan Tyrrell took control early on and at 5-2 up looked good for the victory. However, Halwell's Adrian Allen and Dave Nicholls dug in to win the next two singles matches in four and the doubles 12-10 in the fifth to scrape a draw.
Halwell remain in position for a challenge with only six points between second and fifth spots.
The battle at the top of Division Three continued as Hasbeens again narrowed the gap between themselves and Barnabas Sports Trust to just one point. Hasbeens' Dave Alexander, Gerry Bennett and Laurie Flower only dropped a point in two matches to come within a whisker of the top.
A maximum 10-0 home win against Torre Table Tennis Club started the ball rolling, as Hasbeens dropped only three legs against the league newcomers.
Hasbeens' match against Newton Team Spirits was a closer affair with Ashleigh Stephens managing the point for Spirits 11-9 in the fifth against Flower. Barnabas' players did well in an 8-2 victory over Newton Team Spirits, Ashleigh Stephens again claiming a point, backed up by Joe Cook, both beating Matt Thompson. They were stopped in their tracks however, by Brixham Swifts' Michael Lu, inspired from a trip watching the table tennis at the Olympic games in Beijing and taking the match to Barnabas' Roger Doxat-Pratt, Matt Thompson and Ed Thompson who lost to Lu 11-7 in the fifth.
Dawlish Drifters moved from seventh spot to third in the table with a great 9-1 away win against Brixham Swifts, and a recovery in the doubles for a 5-5 draw against Brixham Rebels. Karolina Czyz and John Allan claimed maximums against Swifts while Czyz was just short of another maximum thanks to a great display from man of the match John Graham of Brixham.
Drifters and Rebels lie only two points apart with Rebels having a game in hand.
At the foot of the table, Brixham Pirates slipped a place as Torre Table Tennis Club notched up their first win 7-3 against Mick Marlow's Brixham youngsters. Michael Blyth was the top player for Torre with a maximum as they halved the deficit between themselves and Pirates at the bottom.