New South Wales skipper Stephen O'Keefe remains hopeful the Blues can salvage a spot in the Sheffield Shield final despite crumbling to a four-wicket loss to South Australia at Adelaide Oval on Thursday.
The Blues scored just 157 in their first innings but managed to bowl out the Redbacks for 240 in reply.
Further struggles with the bat for the visitors, resulted in a second innings return of 173 to set South Australia a small target of 91 for outright victory which they reeled with over a day's worth of play left prior to tea on Thursday.
The loss has left NSW stranded in fourth spot on the Shield table with 17 points, well behind competition leaders Victoria on 28 and the second-placed Redbacks on 24.
But with two fixtures remaining in the four-day competition, O'Keefe said he was optimistic of claiming a whopping 46th first-class trophy and the Blues' first since 2007-08.
"Although this loss (to SA) has put us back a step, if we put in two good performances in the last two games, then we are still in with a chance of playing a Shield cricket final," O'Keefe said.
"Before we came into the match we played seven games and only lost once.
"I'm very optimistic about the way we've played, and if you break down our Shield year we've had three games that have been shortened due to either light or weather and that cost us.
"Particularly against Western Australia, against Tassie (Tasmania) in what would have been a good contest in Bankstown and against the Vics (Victoria) at home.
"I think we've been playing good cricket and we are a win away in Melbourne (against Victoria in March) to be back in there with a chance of making the final ... that's what we'll set out to do."
In a season-defining clash against the Redbacks, O'Keefe was disappointed to see the Blues come up short particularly after tearing through the hosts with one final assault as they chased down the victory target.
NSW reduced the South Australia to 6-90 thanks to a barnstorming spell of bowling from veteran paceman Doug Bollinger (4-31) as the Redbacks approached the finish line, but it wasn't enough to stop SA wicketkeeper Tim Ludeman smashing a boundary for the vital win.
O'Keefe was left to rue what could have been had his side piled on more runs and bowled out the Redbacks earlier in their first dig after middle-order pair Ludeman (60) and all-rounder Jake Brown (65) put on a 120-run partnership to boost South Australia's total on day two.
"We were just outplayed. They were very disciplined with the ball and one key partnership between Ludeman and Brown, who really fought hard, in a low scoring match can sometimes be the difference," O'Keefe said.
"Unfortunately we weren't as disciplined with either bat or ball, so it cost us in the end.
"If we could have fought it out in that first innings and made 200-plus so we are talking 30-40 runs difference, then I think in the backend of game, if they were chasing 150, it would have been an interesting game."
O'Keefe who returned for the four-day contest this week following time on the sideline with split webbing to his hand, said he may consider surgery at the end of the season to repair the injury that has occurred six times.
The 28-year-old admitted another hit to the affected area would draw curtains on his domestic summer.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 22 February, 2013 9:07AM AEST