Northern Diamonds were beaten by defending Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy champions Southern Vipers in their final group game at the Ageas Bowl, meaning Hollie Armitage’s side must play in Wednesday’s semi-final eliminator.
The Diamonds will play Central Sparks at Scarborough for the right to face the Vipers again in Saturday’s final at Northampton.
The winner of the sunny Southampton fixture between the top two sides in the group knew they would qualify directly for the final.
And it proved the Diamonds’ 256 all out, including Bess Heath’s superb 71 off 51 balls, was not enough. They were hurt badly by losing their last five wickets for only eight runs in 13 balls.
The Vipers’ top order, led by captain Georgia Adams’ 67 off 94, then reeled in the target for the loss of five wickets with seven balls remaining.
Adams shared 67 for the second wicket with current England batter Maia Bouchier and 89 for the third with former international Georgia Elwiss.
Elwiss, who scored a century in their last match, pushed her side towards victory once Adams had departed, finishing with 84 not out off 77.
Heath’s aggressive innings added impetus for the Diamonds, who went into this fixture without key bowling duo Jenny Gunn and Katie Levick.
She shared fifth and sixth-wicket partnerships of 66 and 78 with Leah Dobson, whose 49 was her best score in senior women’s cricket, and Linsey Smith (37).
While struggling for momentum in the first 30 overs, the Diamonds laid a platform for some entertaining acceleration.
Rachel Hopkins chipped the left-arm seam of Tara Norris to mid-wicket - 2-1 after two overs.
Armitage (21) was bowled by the medium pace of Elwiss before Sterre Kalis (23) was stumped off a leg-side wide from a similar style of bowling from Bouchier. It was the England T20 batter’s first ball - 56-3 after 18 overs.
Ami Campbell drove, pulled and cut four boundaries in a busy 26 before miscuing Lauren Bell to mid-on, where Vipers captain Adams took a good catch peddling back (104-4 in the 29th).
But things were about to change in the Diamonds’ favour.
From 105-4 after 30, they scored 139 in the next 16, with Heath sharing half-century stands for the fifth and sixth wickets with Dobson and Smith.
Dobson, the 19-year-old who used her feet well, took the lead role initially in her best score, hoisting Charlotte Taylor’s spin over long-on for six to add to six boundaries.
The Diamonds were noticeably aggressive against Taylor, the bowler who claimed six wickets against them in last year’s final at Edgbaston.
Heath was busy to start with before opening her shoulders.
She clobbered two sixes over mid-wicket in a Norris over which went for 22, the 46th of the innings.
By that time, Dobson had been run out at the non-striker’s end - scrambling to make her ground having been sent back by in-form Heath - and the Chesterfield wicketkeeper had reached her third fifty in her last six Diamonds innings off 44 balls.
At the end of that 46th over, the Diamonds were 244-5 and looking towards 280 with busy Smith playing nicely.
Unfortunately, they then lost their last five wickets in a flash, including Heath run out coming back for two and Smith caught at wide mid-off to leave nine balls unused.
Bell finished with an excellent 2-29 from her 10 overs.
Diamonds struck inside four overs of the defence when Ella McCaughan was run out by Heath from behind the stumps at the striker’s end - 7-1.
Experienced pair Adams and Bouchier then steadied their side with a half-century stand. Like the Diamonds with Taylor’s spin, the hosts took on Smith’s left-armers with decent success.
But Phoebe Graham made an important breakthrough when she got one to bounce a touch more on Bouchier (40), who offered a simple catch to Armitage at extra cover off the shoulder of the bat, leaving the score at 74-2 in the 19th.
Adams and Elwiss then positively advanced the score to 118-2 after 25 overs and 143-2 after 30, needing 114 more.
The Diamonds were struggling to control the flow of runs.
Impressive quick Graham returned to get Adams caught at mid-wicket off a miscued pull to open the door (163-3 in the 33rd), only for Elwiss to reach her fifty off 51 balls with the score at 198-3 after 40 and Ireland international Gaby Lewis now for company.
Graham was the most profitable of the Diamonds bowlers, returning 3-44.
She claimed the first of two wickets in three balls when Lewis was trapped lbw before Campbell affected a run out of Emily Windsor at the start of the 46th over, leaving the score at 226-5.
That target later became 19 off the last three overs and 10 off the two, with Elwiss hitting the winning runs off Smith.