South East Stars beat Central Sparks by six runs in a Charlotte Edwards Trophy thriller at Canterbury, with Bryony Smith (47 & 3/23), Phoebe Franklin (52) and Dani Gregory (2/23) impressing for the Stars.
Katie George made 53, but needing to hit seven from the last four balls she was caught on the boundary by Claudie Cooper off Smith, leaving the Sparks all out for 170, with Abbey Freeborn unable to bat due to injury.
The Stars had made their highest score of the season, 176 for six, despite an impressive display by stand-in Sparks captain Georgia Davis, who took three for 13. Franklin, who’d been awarded the PCA player-of-the-month trophy before the game, blasted 52 from 27 balls and captain Smith made 47 off 28, making her the competition’s leading run-getter, with 256 runs at a healthy average of 36.5.
Neither side able was to qualify for Finals Day and both were missing key players through injury and England commitments, but it was a compelling contest that fluctuated almost constantly.
After choosing to bowl, the Sparks produced a fielding performance that was a mixture of the brilliant and the ordinary.
Chloe Hill could have been out first ball, but after skying Ellie Anderson she was dropped by Abbey Freeborn who, given the cloud cover, was trying to catch a white ball against a white background.
Smith was on 20 when she offered a regulation chance to Erin Burns. The fielder put her down but subsequently atoned with a brilliant diving effort to get rid of Smith as she was poised for her half-century.
Hill was the next to go, caught and bowled by Georgia Davis for 25 and Charis Pavely then took a brave catch to remove Aylish Cranstone after she’d holed out to Ellie Anderson, nearly colliding with Burns in the process.
Kira Chathli went for 11 when she hit Bethan Ellis to Chloe Brewer and Davis concluded a superb spell when she bowled Franklin.
Ryan MacDonald-Gay drove Ellis to Burns for five in the final over, but although the rate dipped, it was still the Star’s highest score of the competition so far.
The Sparks’ chase misfired in the second over when Ami Campbell was sent back by fellow opener Ellis chasing a second run that wasn’t really there and she was run out after a smart throw by Hill, but Ellis responded with an enterprising inning, partnered by Davina Perrin.
Davina Perrin struck an elegant 25, only to fall to an inelegant swipe off MacDonald-Gay which was caught at point by Aylish Cranstone.
Gregory swung the momentum back in the Star’ favour when she removed Ellis for 29 when she pulled her to Tash Farrant at square leg off the final ball of the ninth. Although Burns hit 16 off the tenth over, Gregory then bowled Brewer for a golden duck.
Katie George blocked the hat-trick ball and began scoring so freely that the Sparks seemed to be coasting until Smith brought herself back on at the Pavilion End and immediately claimed the key wicket of Burns for 39.
Smith then bowled Pavely for three but as long as George was at the crease the Sparks looked slight favourites. 26 were needed from the final three and 17 from the last two, but home hopes soared when Claudie Cooper had Anderson lbw for five.
George declined a single off the last ball off over, backing herself to get 10 off Smith from the final six balls. The first went for two after a misfield. The tension was ramped up when Cooper then dropped George but ran out Baker who was chasing a second.
George drove the third ball to Cooper in almost exactly the same place, but this time the fielder held on to seal an exhilarating win.
Franklin said: “The game definitely ebbs and flows, but that was one when it was really in our court and then their court.
It’s always nerve-wracking going that close to the finish but we backed our bowlers.
“Bryony’s been reliable with bat opening up and with the ball she’s taken wickets when we needed her to. She’s very calm and she gets that job done for us too.”