Kent 203 for 5 (Bell-Drummond 80, Denly 45) beat Essex 201 for 6 (Wheater 40) by five wickets
Daniel Bell-Drummond hammered his this third Vitality Blast half-century of the season to help Kent finish second in South Group and set up a home tie in the last four.
Bell-Drummond was out at the start of the final over for 80 from 51 balls as Kent crossed the line with one ball to spare to record their eighth T20 win of the campaign. With Joe Denly, Bell-Drummond set the ball rolling in pursuit of 202 to win with a 98-run opening stand. When he departed he had hit eight fours and three sixes.
The Spitfires had qualified for the knockout stages the night before when they beat Somerset by five runs in another high-scoring encounter. Their visit to The Cloudfm County Ground was, therefore, to decide venue and opponents for next week's quarter-final.
Despite the defeat, it was a memorable evening for Essex's veteran all-rounder Ravi Bopara. He marked his 300th career T20 appearance by taking his 200th wicket, returning four-over figures of one for 22. He also claimed 25 off 10 balls, including two sixes, to move within seven runs of 6,000 in the 16 years of the shortest form of the game.
Essex passed 200 for the second time in 24 hours, but only the second time this season after claiming only their second win of a dismal season against Middlesex on Thursday night.
It was an Essex team chosen with an eye on the resumption of the Specsavers County Championship on Sunday against Somerset at Taunton. Captain Ryan ten Doeschate plus pacemen Peter Siddle and Sam Cook were rested, while spinner Aron Nijjar and Dutch international Shane Snater made their T20 debuts for the Eagles.
Denly and Bell-Drummond made a storming start on the ground where they compiled a then world-record opening stand of 207 a year ago. They had fifty on the board inside five overs with both batsmen finding the boundary with some regularity and ease.
Bell-Drummond hit the first three balls of Paul Walter's second over for two fours and a straight six, and greeted Snater's introduction with a six in an over that cost 23. Denly also hit Nijjar over his head for a six in his opening over.
Bell-Drummond's fifty took 27 balls, and included two sixes and six fours. But with the partnership approaching three-figures in nine overs he lost Denly. The all-rounder, who had earlier chipped in with two Essex wickets for 33, came down the wicket to Nijjar and found Michael Pepper on the long-off boundary He had contributed 45 from 23 balls, with seven fours and a six.
Heino Kuhn did not last long before he became Bopara's landmark victim when he was bowled. That brought in Sam Billings, the captain, and he wasted no time in leading from the front. Nijjar was deposited high over the ropes at long-leg and Harmer well over the midwicket boundary during a 19-ball 33 that took the Spitfires past 150 in the 15th over. He perished when Dan Lawrence took a diving catch as he raced in.
Bell-Drummond survived a run-out attempt on 69 when Varun Chopra broke the non-striker's wicket with a throw from the opposite end, but he was adjudged to have just made it back to his crease. With three overs left, Kent required 33 to win, 22 off two.
They lost Alex Blake for 19 as he tried to work Snater off his legs, and Matt Coles snaffled the catch at short fine leg. They were still 20 runs short, but Snater helped them on their way with four wides and they needed nine runs from six balls.
But Bell-Drummond exited with four balls left when held by Snater at deep midwicket to give Coles the wicket. However, Grant Stewart made up for some indifferent bowling by striking the winning boundary from the penultimate ball.
Kent won the toss and opted to field. They were not helped when Stewart sent down three wides in his first four balls, and when he did bowl a legitimate delivery Varun Chopra pulled him over midwicket for six in an over that cost 15.
Wheater had already reverse-swept a four off Denly, and taken successive boundaries off Haggett before paddle-sweeping a six off Milne to bring up the Eagles' fifty at the start of the sixth over.
The wicketkeeper-batsman dealt equally harshly with Imran Qayyum who went for two fours in a row. But he perished for a 25-ball 40, including six fours and that six, when he lofted Haggett to Sean Dickson on the midwicket rope.
When Stewart returned, Chopra pulled a full-toss for his second six as Essex reached three-figures from 64 balls. But having already been tied up in knots by Denly, misjudged a straight one and was bowled for 37. Paul Walter followed two balls later, caught at long-off for 29 from 14 balls, including a six over cow corner off Claydon.
Dan Lawrence hit a career-best 86 at Lord's 24 hours earlier, and underlined his improvement in the shorter format by chipping Denly back over the bowler's head for six. He collected four more from a reverse sweep, but next ball went for an injudicious ramp shot against Claydon, missed the ball and was bowled for 19.
Ashar Zaidi hit Haggett for successive boundaries, but became over-ambitious when he tried to land a six over cow corner, but only succeeded in finding Dickson positioned for just such a shot.
Bopara lofted Claydon for an enormous six over midwicket and followed up two balls later by a second over long-off. He finished an over in which he added 18 to his personal account with a four backward of square.
Harmer, captaining in the absence of ten Doeschate, departed when he feathered a catch behind off Milne before Matt Coles took two from the last ball to take Essex past 200.