Issy Wong starred for Central Sparks with the bat and ball, while Maddie Blinkhorn-Jones played well for her 77, but the South East Stars lost the match by 21 runs at Woodbridge Road.
Wong (50) released from England Ashes duty for the fixture, made her maiden list-A half-century, sharing a stand of 102 with Charis Pavely for the seventh wicket, the youngster finishing 57 not out in only her second game at this level. Their heroics carried Sparks to 246-8 despite Stars’ England all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards returning 3-46.
Maddie Blinkhorn-Jones led the chase with a magnificent 77 while Davidson-Richards made 48, but Sparks’ bowlers had the final say, Katie George taking 3-30, Georgia Davis 3-52 and Wong 2-37 as Stars were bowled out for 225 with 15 balls left.
Eve Jones, Sparks’ leading batter in the competition, was soon out caught behind off one of Stars’ England returnees Ryana MacDonald-Gay, the first of three catches for wicketkeeper Kira Chathli. In-form Abbey Freeborn also nicked MacDonald-Gay behind, and with Davidson-Richards striking two further blows Sparks stumbled to 61-4.
Katie George holed out soon afterwards only for a no-ball to be called for a waist-high full toss and the batter made good of the reprieve with three stylish fours in her 31, raising a 50-partnerhip with opener Bethan Ellis who swept to good effect.
The pair fell in the space of seven balls, George pinned lbw on the back foot by Dani Gregory, while Ellis (42) played one sweep too many against Stars’ skipper Bryony Smith. At 121-6 Sparks needed just that – a spark and in fact found two as Pavely and Wong hit the reset button.
Pavely, showing great maturity played a straight drive back past Gregory before pulling the same bowler to the fence at square leg. Wong played second fiddle for a while before unable to contain her attacking intent any longer she sent one six into the scoreboard and another clean out the ground as Sparks posted a challenging total.
Inspired by her batting exploits, Wong should have had an early wicket when finding the edge of Chathli’s bat, but wicketkeeper Freeborn could only parry the chance away to her right. Wong’s response was to take the fielder’s out of the equation and uproot Chathli’s off-stump.
The England quick soon appealed again for a catch behind against Stars’ skipper Bryony Smith, not answered in the affirmative, but from the very next ball Ami Campbell plucked one out of the sky at wide mid-off to send the home skipper packing for a duck.
Alexa Stonehouse (29) briefly threatened only to fall to a catch on the fence by George and Jones pulled off another blinder at slip as Jemima Spence came and went, Davis the successful bowler on both occasions.
Paige Scholfield with two centuries and more than 300 runs in the tournament was another not to last long, bowled through the gate by Australian all-rounder Erin Burns and at 94-5 Stars’ hopes looked slim.
Davidson-Richards and Maddie Blinkhorn-Jones dug in, surviving several vociferous appeals to punish the odd bad ball when it came to raise a 50-partnership and bring the runs required under 100.
The impressive George returned to remove both Davidson-Richards, caught in the deep and Kalea Moore, but Blinkhorn-Jones stood firm, twice despatching the returning Wong to the fence as she raced to 50.
Macdonald-Gay proved a good foil in a stand of 51 to leave the game in the balance, but she was bowled by Davis and when Blinkhorn-Jones holed out at cover the game was up.
Blinkhorn-Jones said after the game: “It was pretty intense especially nearing the end but batting with people like ADR (Alice Davidson-Richards makes it a lot easier. She talks me through everything. I was a bit shattered at the end though.
“What they tell you is just to play your own shots. ADR and I like to make jokes and talk about each others shots and stuff, but we don’t take it too seriously otherwise we start stressing ou. It’s better to keep things nice and light.
“I have been working to get into this team for quite a while so to perform is quite good.
“We are doing well and we have the skills to win these games – we just have to get over the line now.