Essex 149 for 5 (Pettini 59, Stevens 3-13) beat Kent 126 for 9 (Topley 3-19) by 23 runs
Kent's Friends Life t20 hopes ended as they suffered two calamitous run-outs during a 23-run home defeat to Essex under lights in Canterbury. The Spitfires' fifth defeat of the campaign confirmed the exit of the 2007 champions but Essex, with five wins and 10 points, could still qualify by beating Hampshire in Sunday's final round of South Group games.
Sam Northeast and Darren Stevens were run out in embarrassing fashion in the space of three balls as Kent made an appalling start in pursuit of their 150-run victory target.
The hosts lost opener Sam Billings to former Kent seamer David Masters 27 balls into the response and then, with only 21 on the board after the Powerplay overs, Rob Key attempted to accelerate with an ambitious clip to leg only to play around one from James Franklin.
Although Essex used six bowlers in the opening 10 overs of the reply, Kent's top order were seemingly unable to master any of them and limped to the mid-point of their innings on a paltry 42 for 2. They suffered a setback soon after when Northeast, having been dropped at deep midwicket by Tim Phillips, clashed with third-wicket partner Stevens when crossing for a second run and was run out by the return throw by Phillips.
Stevens endured a similar fate one run and two balls later when, in calling for a single to cover, he was sent back by Azhar Mahmood and run out by Reece Topley's throw.
Mahmood had only 11 to his name when he perished in attempting a late cut against Masters, while Alex Blake slogged a brace of sixes in his cameo 16, but fell when aiming another maximum against Topley and Kent's chances of reaching the last eight effectively went with him.
Having been invited to bat, Essex lost New Zealand allrounder Franklin without scoring after he steered the second ball of the night from Mark Davies into the hands of Key at short midwicket.
Former Eagles' captain Mark Pettini then combined with Greg Smith to add an enterprising 98 in 12 overs for the second wicket, with Pettini the main aggressor. The diminutive right-hander took 15 from one over of spin by Adam Riley, including a brace of sixes, the second of which landed in the top tier of the Frank Woolley Stand.
Pettini scampered to a 36-ball 50 but, with 99 on the board, Smith departed to a catch at deep mid-off against Stevens before Pettini, having been sent back when wanting a single to short leg, fell to a run out from Key's throw.
Stevens struck again by having Ryan ten Doeschate stumped without scoring and, with the overs fast running out, visiting captain James Foster attempted to clear the ropes only to pick out long-on and give Stevens excellent figures of 3 for 13. Owais Shah clipped a last over six against Azhar Mahmood, however, and Essex were comfortably able to defend their total.