SOUTHERN Vipers beat Northern Diamonds by five wickets at the Ageas Bowl with seven balls to spare, to finish top of the table and book a place in next Saturday’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final.

Georgia Elwiss steered her side home in a tricky chase for the second time in as many matches, following up last week’s century with a magnificent unbeaten 84 off 77 balls, after captain Georgia Adams had led from the front with a second consecutive half-century.

Diamonds had opted to bat first but were bowled out for 256 in 48.3 overs, despite a galloping 71 from 51 balls for Bess Heath and a career-best 49 from Leah Dobson. The Northern side were pegged back early by Lauren Bell, who returned two for 29 in her 10 overs including two maidens in her opening four-over spell, and though the middle-order proved resurgent, their slow start cost them. Diamonds, as runners-up in the table, will now host the 2nd/3rd place play-off on Wednesday.

Vipers had been 7-1 in the fourth over of their chase after Heath ran out Ella McCaughan with a direct hit from behind the stumps - revenge for McCaughan’s own two run outs in the Diamonds innings, which had seen off both Dobson and Heath herself.

Maia Bouchier (40) shared a 67-run stand with Adams to steady the ship, punching hard through the leg side, but both were caught on the ring off Phoebe Graham. Graham (3-44) also trapped Gaby Lewis lbw for 39, and Emily Windsor was run out with 31 runs still needed.

Elwiss, though - cheered on from the balcony of the Hilton Hotel by the England Women’s football team - finished the job in the 49th over by lofting the ball over the head of Linsey Smith for four.

Earlier, Diamonds had been in trouble at 105 for four after 30 overs, after skipper Armitage (21) played on and Bouchier, bowling for only the second time in the competition after her action was cleared in July, had Sterre Kalis (23) stumped off a leg-side wide with her first ball. Bell’s second spell then yielded the wicket of Ami Campbell (26), caught at mid-on.

Even without the talismanic Jenny Gunn, sitting out injured, Diamonds’ middle-order proved resurgent - 84 runs were added between overs 31 and 40, including a quickfire 37 from 42 balls from Smith. Heath grew in confidence, pulling for four to bring up her fifty before walloping two huge sixes over the leg side.

But after she was run out colliding with Smith, Diamonds lost their final four wickets for eight runs, unable to finish with a bang.