Defending champions Central Stags hit form at the right time in cantering to an eight-wicket win over Auckland Aces in the final round of the HRV Cup in New Plymouth today.
Auckland had already secured a berth in Sunday's final, but second-placed Central desperately needed the win to secure the other finals spot.
Northern Knights and Canterbury were both within reach, four points astray of Central Stags' second-placed 22 going into today's games.
Auckland won the toss, but their openers struggled to impose themselves on the game, Colin de Grandhomme and Jimmy Adams succumbing for seven and 14 respectively to leave Auckland looking shaky at 44 for two midway through the sixth over.
However, Lou Vincent was again impressive in holding the Auckland innings together, and -- in tandem with Victorian opener Rob Quiney -- played a vital part in Auckland's 180 for seven off 20 overs.
Vincent had looked assured in piling on 46 from just 29 balls, including five fours and two sixes, before he was clean bowled by Jacob Oram as the halfway mark neared. The run rate was barely checked, however, as Quiney racked up an quickfire 55 from 29 balls, including two fours and five sixes.
For Central, English import Mike Yardy played a big part with the ball, finishing with the impressive figures of 2-18 off his four overs while Mitchell McClenaghan picked up 2-20 off two.
Central's run chase began with conviction, and ended with aplomb. Jamie How and Peter Ingram put on 74 runs for the first wicket, which came at the end of the seventh over.
How, caught by Jimmy Adams off Ronnie Hira, made a useful 43 off 27 but that paled in comparison to No 3 Ian Blackwell's unbeaten 68 off 33 balls, taking in four fours and six sixes.
Ingram was run out for 46 off the first ball of the 13th over, but George Worker (20 off 13) and Blackwell saw Central home with three overs to spare.