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Leg-spinner Dani Gregory ran through Southern Vipers’ middle order as South East Stars triumphed by six wickets at The Kia Oval to cement their status as Charlotte Edwards Cup front-runners.

Gregory’s spell of three for 23 reduced the defending champions to 73 for six before Alice Monaghan (44 from 33 balls) and Rhianna Southby (25 from 22) counter-attacked with an unbroken partnership of 69 from 50.

That enabled Vipers to post 142 for six, but their total was not enough as Paige Scholfield (50 from 34) and Sophia Dunkley (53 from 42)  both struck half-centuries to usher Stars over the finish line with 11 balls to spare.

Dunkley was caught attempting to hit the winning runs, but Phoebe Franklin secured Stars’ fourth victory in five games, while Vipers now face a battle to qualify for the knockout stage.

Put in to bat, Vipers were soon in difficulties as the relentless accuracy of left-arm seamer Alexa Stonehouse kept them under rein and Charli Knott departed cheaply, clipping Franklin to midwicket.

Stonehouse removed Ella McCaughan, caught at cover, but captain Georgia Adams (19 from 12) lifted the tempo with successive boundaries as she and Georgia Elwiss (22 from 25) took their side to 61 for two in the ninth over.

However, Vipers then lost four wickets for just 12 as Adams pulled Alice Davidson-Richards’ long hop to the diving Stonehouse in the deep and the next three fell to Gregory, including Elwiss who was bowled swinging across the line.

Bowling in tandem with left-arm spinner Tilly Corteen-Coleman, whose four overs cost just 21, Gregory appeared to have put Stars firmly in control – but Monaghan and Southby had other ideas.

Southby drilled Dunkley for the first six of the innings in the 18th over, while Monaghan – dropped at long-on off the same bowler on 13 – capitalised to hammer 22 from Franklin’s final over, including two maximums and keep the visitors in contention.

But, although Dunkley and Bryony Smith initially began slowly with the bat – taking 16 balls to find the boundary – they kept their wickets intact, bustling along to 47 in the powerplay overs.

Smith pulled Freya Davies over midwicket for six as she advanced to 31 from 25, departing to the first post-powerplay delivery when she hoisted namesake Linsey into the hands of long-off.

The captain’s dismissal did little to derail Stars’ momentum and Scholfield straight-drove Mary Taylor to the rope before steering the seamer’s next delivery through the slip area for four more.

Scholfield took advantage of some sloppy fielding to dispatch Nancy Harman for another two fours, but it was Dunkley who won the race to her half-century, thrashing Smith for a midwicket boundary to get there from 38 balls.

Her partner followed suit from 33 deliveries and, although Davies had her caught behind before Knott (two for 29) dismissed Dunkley and Davidson-Richards with successive balls, it made no difference to the outcome.