A dynamic Northern Spirit cricket team have qualified for their first-ever domestic one-day grand final by beating a young Wellington Blaze outfit in two 50-over games at Cobham Oval over the weekend.
The Spirit, playing in the penultimate round of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield, won by a dominant 121-run margin in the first game on Saturday, before claiming an edgy four-wicket win yesterday.
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The home side, which featured promising Northland cricketer Makayla Templeton on debut, posted a mammoth 265 for 3 in Saturday's game with number three Eimear Richardson falling just three short of a century in a 101-run partnership with Felicity Leydon-Davis, who scored 69.
In reply, the visitors offered little resistance to the bowling of Kate Anderson who spun her way to figures of five wickets for 30 runs off 9.1 overs. Templeton, bowling leg-spin, provided the perfect foil at the other end as she picked up two wickets to see the Blaze all out for 144.
Seeing the Spirit's success with the bat on a good pitch the day before, Wellington won the toss and elected to bat on another hot Northland day. The Blaze went on to score 146 with Northern's Richardson starring this time with the ball, taking four wickets.
The Spirit's chase was not as simple as their innings on Saturday, as the home side was staring down the barrel at 79 for 6.
However, the nerves had little effect on number 7 and 8 pairing Holly Topp and Leydon-Davis who put on 71 for the seventh wicket to win the game with 13 balls to spare.
The two wins sent the Spirit to the top of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield points table with two games left to play against the Auckland Hearts at the end of the month before they play in the final.
"It's nice to get another win," Northern Spirit coach Kari Carswell said after Saturday's game.
"I think it's the first time in a long time that the Spirit have been at the top of the table so we'll take that, move on and be better."
Carswell said she was pleased to see her batters continue their good form so the bowlers could play with confidence in trying conditions.
"I thought we kept it quite simple, we knew what we wanted to do and achieve, and fair play to the bowlers in that heat, we were pretty happy."
The Spirit would have had two homegrown players in the two fixtures had it not been for regular Spirit figure Olivia Lobb going down with appendicitis just days before the games.
Carswell said she was impressed with Templeton's debut after being unlucky not to feature for the side in earlier competitions.
"[Templeton] would have been nervous when she came on to bowl, but once she settled down into her rhythm, she showed us what she's capable of.
"There's no doubt that she's a good cricketer and if she keeps working on her skills, who knows how far she can go."
With her eyes set on the next two ties against a strong Auckland lineup, Carswell said she would be asking for much of the same from her team.
"It's just making sure that our batters are taking the responsibility to be there, build those partnerships, make sure we stick to our plans, don't try and get too fancy, and just stick to what we are good at."