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Bryony Smith century blasts South East Stars into home play-off clash

South East Stars 281 for 9 (Smith 114, Macdonald-Gay 54) beat Lightning 169 (Boyce 60, Gray 3-29) with 112 runs

Bryony Smith’s majestic 114 gave the South East Stars the lead with a playoff home game with Southern Vipers and sentenced Lightning to a limp goodbye to the regional fabric.

Stars skipper Smith, who had played in all three of England’s T20I series wins over India last week, returned to take on an exciting first Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy century.

Ryana Macdonald-Gay’s half-century propped up her captaincy to win 281 at the Uptonsteel County Ground in Leicester, which turned out to be 112 runs too many, despite Georgie Boyce scoring 60 on her second appearance since coming off Thunder.

Stars will host Vipers at The County Ground, Beckenham on Wednesday, with the winners facing Diamonds at Lord’s on Sunday, September 25.

Lightning lost the toss and was asked to field first in their last game as a region in Loughborough, before moving to Nottinghamshire next year, but started their farewell strong when Grace Ballinger threw Chloe Brewer with an in-swinger.

That brought Smith to the fold, and despite four dots to begin with, destruction was not far off.

She never veered too far from a run-a-ball anywhere, aided by some glorious early riding, but shot ahead with four straight limits from Ballinger to drive into the 1940s.

Her fourth time over 50 in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy came in 47, but it only took her 39 more deliveries to become the competition’s 14th centurion in three seasons – and the second fastest to the milestone.

Smith’s timing and picking up bad legside balls were the basis of the phenomenal innings, but so was her ability to dominate partnerships despite regularly dropping wickets. She scored 40 with Kira Chathli, 66 with Jemima Spence (of which Smith scored 45) and 51 with Rhianna Southby.

As she headed for 114, having been knocked out halfway to end a blistering innings with 17 fours and a six over long-on, it felt inevitable that Stars would slump in her wake.

But 196 to seven was revived to 267 to eight after a low-risk, high-reward fight between Macdonald-Gay and Alexa Stonehouse. The former found holes with her wrists to retrieve a first list of half a century in 56 balls.

It helped Stars finish well over par 281, although Ballinger’s three for 62 belied her impressive first five overs, while Kirstie Gordon was exemplary with two for 38.

Franklin destroyed the Lightning top order by bowling Marie Kelly via a chop-on, knocking out Beth Harmer with a square leg direct hit, and previously had Michaela Kirk leg.

Lucy Higham was hit from the front by Eva Gray, leaving Lightning behind at 54 for four, but Boyce demonstrated her impressive skills in a 76-run stand with the increasingly impressive Ella Claridge.

The pair got their way back toward a manageable speed, with Boyce amassed a 60-ball fifty. But wicketkeeper Claridge fell for 35 and Boyce 70 within three overs of each other to stunt the hosts again before the bottom fell out.

Macdonald-Gay continued her fine day bowling Boyce and Sophie Munro, Gray took her second and third when Thresa Graves was amazingly caught backwards by Southby and Josie Groves tickled behind it. Dani Gregory took the last wicket from Ballinger with 70 balls.

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