Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo
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Blaze 52 for 2 (S Bryce 34*) beat South East Stars 148 (MacDonald-Gay 26, Kelly 2-7, Gordon 2-14, Higham 2-20, K Bryce 2-36) by eight wickets (DLS method)
A bizarre day ended with early season pace-setters Blaze overturning a three-game losing streak at the perfect moment to defeat South East Stars and secure a place in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final.
Originally set 149 to win after they had bowled Stars out for 148 in 43.5 overs, persistent heavy rain throughout the day led to a revised target of 52 runs from 10 overs being confirmed half an hour before the cut-off for the fixture to constitute a match and to avoid the second protagonist of Sunday's finale against Southern Vipers in Northampton being decided by a bowl out. At that time, Blaze were 15 for 1 from 3.2 overs, leaving them 37 runs to get off 40 balls.
Stars' Beckenham ground - chosen as host despite Blaze finishing second in the table because Trent Bridge is preparing to stage Saturday's ODI between England and Ireland and the other two options, Derby and Leicester, are in the midst of home County Championship fixtures - was bathed in glorious autumnal sunshine when play began.
But soon the heavy grey clouds that have so challenged the wisdom of playing cricket in England mid-September over the past week or so descended and interrupted play, albeit briefly. At least the Blaze fan decked out in orange and black - one among about 30 spectators at the ground in total - who launched into a heartfelt chorus of "Feeling Hot Hot Hot" when Marie Kelly pinned Aylish Cranstone lbw to reduce Stars to 77 for 7 in the 20th over seemed oblivious to the impending gloom, as were her team.
Or perhaps they were acutely aware of the weather forecast, such was their initial hurry to get this match done with Kelly, Kirstie Gordon, Lucy Higham and Kathryn Bryce taking two wickets apiece to bowl their opponents out well inside their 50-over allocation, despite a plucky 33-run stand for the ninth wicket between Ryana MacDonald-Gay and Chloe Hill giving Stars' innings some substance.
Kira Chathli had fallen to the second ball of the match, bowled by Grace Ballinger, and Stars were 40 for 2 when Gordon bowled Bryony Smith, bringing Alice Capsey to the crease. But her stay was short-lived when Josie Groves struck with her third ball, Capsey dragging on to fall for just 5.
Alice Davidson-Richards, called into England's ODI squad which played Sri Lanka off the back of her century against Blaze at this very ground 11 days ago, dispatched Groves straight down the ground for six but soon had her middle stump uprooted by Gordon. Then Alexa Stonehouse picked out Kelly at deep midwicket off Higham and Stars were in deep trouble.
Kelly took a sharp return catch, launching herself forward to her right in her follow-through, to remove the threat of Stars' leading run-scorer Paige Scholfield cheaply and, sure enough, a heavy downpour arrived on the stroke of midday and play was suspended for about 15 minutes.
It was only another quarter of an hour before Bethan Miles was adjudged lbw to Kathryn Bryce, leaving it to MacDonald-Gay, the 19-year-old No. 10, to top score for Stars with 26, including a lovely straight-driven four off Kathryn Bryce shortly before she was stumped by Sarah Bryce sashaying down the pitch to Higham in the 44th over.
When Lizelle Lee was run out in the second over of the reply, her hesitation on being called through for a single by Kelly giving Davidson-Richards ample time to fire the ball in to wicketkeeper Chatli, Blaze's prospects of a quick run chase took a hit and they were destroyed by a second wave of showers arriving at 2pm and persisting on and off even through baking sunshine at times.
The irony of that as the absurd prospect of a bowl out to decide who would do battle for the season's title loomed brought a huge sense of relief when the sun prevailed over yet another shower at around 5pm and the players began preparing like they were possessed, the match allowed to enter a tense final stanza, thanks in no small part to the groundstaff who worked tirelessly throughout the day.
Stonehouse had Kelly caught behind with the third legitimate delivery after the re-start, much to the delight of the few Stars supporters who had hung around for three-and-a-half action-less hours. But Sarah Bryce and Georgie Boyce marshalled their pursuit at around a run a ball and when Bryce swung Davidson-Richards through the leg side for four, the pressure eased. She sealed victory with a six straight down the ground off Smith and eight balls to spare.
Sarah Bryce admitted a bowl out "would've been a very strange way, I think, for the game to be decided".
"I guess you've got to get results somehow or decide who's going through but it would be a strange way to finish," she said. "It was a strange day really. Pleased with our bowling performance to put us in such a good position, then the rain hanging around for a bit longer than we would've liked and then putting a little bit of doubt in the thought of a bowl off was a little bit nerve wracking for us all but we were absolutely delighted that we were able to get out there and finish the game of cricket and obviously delighted to come away with the win."
Blaze won their first six completed matches of the tournament, including against Vipers, who switched that result by a massive 126 runs in their final group-stage game last week. Vipers also defeated Blaze in the final of the Charlotte Edwards Cup in June.
"They're a good team," Bryce said. "We've got a rematch of the T20 final, but we've also beaten them in the 50-over, in the first group game, so we know that we've got that belief behind us. Just really excited to be back at a final where anything can happen and hopefully we can come away with the right result.
"One thing that one of our players actually said that I think was really valuable was the fact that we were in the eliminator allowed us the opportunity to hopefully go into a final off the back of the win. That can be a really positive way to look at it. We've not had the best three games that we would've liked, but we know that we have it in the tank - we've shown that at the beginning of the season and I think hopefully we can take the momentum from this game into the final."