OTAGO VOLTS v AUCKLAND ACES
Queen's Park, Invercargill
24 November 2018
Result: Otago Volts won by three runs, securing direct entry to a home Ford Trophy Grand Final in Dunedin
With a washout in Whangarei earlier in the day, at the opposite end of the country the Otago Volts now knew they needed only to win against the Aces in order to secure direct entry to The Ford Trophy Grand Final.
However, the third-ranked Aces weren't about to make that task a foregone conclusion.
Making use of the best weather in the country, Volts co-captain Jacob Duffy elected to bat first under blue skies but lost two early wickets in Mitch Renwick and, coming off his maiden century in the previous round, Brad Wilson.
31/2 in the ninth over wasn't ideal for the hosts, but Nathan Smith and Neil Broom led a critical recovery with a 78-run stand for the third wicket.
Broom had just reached his half century off 60 balls when he chopped one on against Ronnie Hira, who had also accounted for Smith (42 off 48) lbw just eight balls earlier.
Two big wickets, but the Volts quickly regrouped with Shawn Hicks (45 off 57) and Anaru Kitchen (43 off 41) building a 78-run stand for the fifth wicket.
Hira broke that one as well, as Kitchen looked to ramp only to wreck his castle. Hira had never taken a five-wicket bag in The Ford Trophy but was right on course here, in a huge match. He finished with 4-46 off his 10.
Hicks (45 off 57) carried on into the 43rd over before Josh Finnie and Christi Viljoen turbo-boosted the Volts' strike rate at the death, blasting three sixes between them in a quick unbroken 72-run stand for the eighth wicket.
That set the Aces a chase of 284 at just under a run a ball, but the Volts made a big early breakthrough as danger man Colin Munro chopped one on against a thrilled Duffy in just the third over of the reply.
Fellow opening batsman Ben Horne had reached 30* by the time he lost his second partner, a flashy Sean Solia caught off Nathan Smith for a quick 27.
Like the Volts had done before them, the Aces showed they could steady a ship as Horne recombined with captain Craig Cachopa in a 73-run stand for the third wicket, trucking nicely together for a time.
Top-scorer Horne (above, Photosport) had only just equalled his List A career best of 63 when an ugly runout ruined his day, Cachopa showing initial interest in taking a single before nonchalantly turning his back as Horne had meanwhile galloped halfway down the pitch, a sitting duck for Broom's arm.
Cachopa was joined by Robbie O'Donnell and pressed on to a half century off 58 balls, before the pair fell in quick succession.
At 170 for five, the match was in the balance with the Aces still requiring a further 114 runs at almost seven an over. New pair Michael Barry and Matt McEwan kept ticking over the strike, but they were struggling to find the boundary as Duffy and the difficult Michael Rippon dialled up the pressure.
At the 40-over mark they had needed 72 off the last 10, but managed to peel nine runs off Rippon's next over to reach a 50-stand.
Maintaining wickets was key, but if they could continue their solid work, the match was on course for a thrilling conclusion.
The Otago Volts struck back, however, until defending champions the Aces needed 16 runs off the final over, now with just three wickets in hand, with survivor Barry having reached his 50 in the previous over.
Duffy took the ball for his team and conceded 11 runs and a wide, but consecutive boundaries desperately belted off the last two deliveries were not quite enough for the Aces to scrape home.
The tight, three-run victory means the resurgent Volts secure direct entry to a home Ford Trophy Grand Final that will be televised by SKY Sport from Dunedin's University of Otago Oval on 1 December.
The Aces qualify third, but will host Wednesday's 2v3 Elimination Final against the Wellington Firebirds at Eden Park Outer Oval after the Firebirds ceded hosting rights. All matches begin at 11am.