Ballymena Indoor Bowling Club will once again play their bowls in the top division of the Ballymena & District League next season.
A year after suffering relegation, the Old Ballymoney Road side have clinched an immediate return to the top tier, with two games left to spare.
They did so in some style, whitewashing one of their nearest challengers Services ‘A’ at the Trostan Avenue clubrooms.
Roy Torrington and Stephen Shields laid a solid foundation in the first half, with wins over B Stewart and Mark Shaw.
And ‘BI’ carried on in the same vein after the break, with wins from David Duncan and Nigel Robinson ensuring that Services are no longer in a position to overtake them in the league table.
The champagne will have to remain on ice for a nother couple of weeks, however, as it is still possible that BIBC could be pipped to the title by Clough Rangers, with the destination of the trophy likely to be decided when the sides meet early next month.
Clough, who trail BI by 11-and-a-half points but with a game in hand, kept up their lingering hopes by taking three points from their visit to bottom side Moneyglass.
It was all square at the interval after Stewart Gregg’s three-shot win for Clough was cancelled out by Henry Graham’s win for the home side by the same margin.
Raymond Aitcheson’s seven shot win over Tommy Magee tipped the game in Clough’s favour and even though Henry Marron’s rink defeated Jimmy Gregg, ‘MG’ came up short overall by just two shots.
Another side not entirely out of the promotion hunt are Harryville Community Centre who defeated Golf Seniors by five shots to claim the lion’s share of the points.
In a high-scoring first half, the golfers were one shot ahead thanks to Ivan McMaster’s five-shot success over Gary Worthington, although Harold Smyth’s foursome all but nullified that advantage by beating Ian Lecky.
The shots continued to flow freely in the second half with John Nichols pipping Willard Reid by a shot, but it was Joe Patterson’s rink who struck the decisive blow in the overall context of the game, with a seven shot win over Donald Smyth deciding the destination of the points for overall shots total in Harryville’s favour.
The Raceview side are now sweating on their second division status, especially after Glenravel did their survival chances a power of good by taking four points from their visit to All Saints.
The most dramatic of the Martinstown side’s three rink wins came as John McKeegan’s quartet scored a ‘4’ on the final end to pip Tony Dillon by a shot, while Martin O’Neill and Martin McKillop also skipped winning Glenravel rinks.
Saints’ response came from Eugene McReynolds, whose victory over Vera Bryson was rarely in doubt after he opened with counts of ‘4’ on each of the opening two ends.
With leaders Michelin on their ‘bye’ week, Broughshane Playing Fields Association ‘A’ took advantage to regain top spot after a convincing win over their ‘B’ team clubmates.
Even without absent international players David and Andrew Morrison, the ‘A’ team had too much in reserve for their colleagues as they cantered to a 32-shot victory.
The most dominant performance came from Ivan Craig’s rink, who restricted Herbie McCullough to just a single shot, while Doran Turtle, Alan Cahoon and Richard Rodgers also guided their ‘A’ team rinks to a victory which sees them move two points clear of Michelin - who they face twice in the next fortnight, in the League Cup semi-final second leg and then a potentially title-deciding league encounter at the Knockan Road clubrooms.
Elsewhere, Golf Club revived their hopes of finishing third by beating their only other rivals for that position, Old Bleach.
Sean Mcgarry, Johnny Lynn and David McCullough helped the Raceview side to a 21-shot win, which would have yielded all five points had it not been for Neil Booth’s single shot success over Fred Dawson.
The two sides are now level on points after Bleach claimed three-and-a-half-points from a rearranged game against Portglenone Community Centre.
Bryan Magrath’s rink accounted for almost half of the Randalstown side’s shots total with a 17-3 win over Joe McErlean but aside from that, the other three rinks were keenly contested, with Neil Booth winning for Bleach, while P McKeown and Jim Gaul halved their point. The Bannsiders’ other point came from James McCann.
Antrim IBC are within touching distance of securing the third division title after a thumping win at Eaton Park.
Any hopes the rugby club side had held of springing a surprise had long since evaporated by the break, by which stage Antrim had raced into a 25-shot lead thanks to healthy wins from rinks skipped by father and son Robert and Darren McCullough.
Eaton Park made more of a fist of it in the second half but came up just short, firstly as Tom Evans saw off Noel Crabbe by two shots, while John Logan made sure of the ‘full house’ for Antrim when he claimed four shots over the final three ends to pinch a one shot win over John Carruthers.
But still clinging gamely onto Antrim’s coat-tails are First Ballymena, who trail by six-and-a-half points but with a game in hand.
The church side ensured an encouraging season will extend into the closing weeks by beating Services ‘B’ - a result which takes the Trostan Avenue side out of the title reckoning.
Services were a shot ahead at the tea break thanks to Greta Coulter’s two-shot win over Jim Lilley, against a one-shot win from ‘First’s Lyle McQuitty in response.
But it was Roland Woods’ rinks - who have enjoyed some eye-catching wins of late - who blew the game wide open with a 12-shot win over Sheila Smith, which meant that even Roy Dickson’s seven shot win over Matt McPeake couldn’t prevent Services from finishing four shots adrift of their opponents.
In the other game, Round Tower drew level on points with Maine after taking four points from their meeting, two of them coming in the first half through wins from Gilmore Campbell and Helen Totten.
Laurence McQuillan looked to have hauled Maine back into the game with a 12-shot win over John O’Neill only for Michael Teer’s rink - Round Tower’s most regular source of points - to reply with a 15-shot win over M Kelly.
Division One: BPFA ‘A’, played 11, points 45; Michelin 10-43; Golf Club 10-26; Old Bleach 10-26; BPFA ‘B’ 11-15.5; JTI 9-11; Portglenone Community Centre 9-8.5.
Division Two: BIBC 12-44; Clough Rangers 11-32.5; Services ‘A’ 12-30.5; Harryville Community Centre 12-30; All Saints 11-24.5; Golf Seniors 12-24; Glenravel 11-23.5; Moneyglass.
Division Three: Antrim IBC 11-39.5; First Ballymena 10-33; Services ‘B’ 10-27.5; Maine 10-20.5; Round Tower 10-20.5; Eaton Park 11-20; West Church 10-19.