In-form Sophie Luff scored a brilliant career-best 157 not out to propel Western Storm to a 36-run triumph over Sunrisers in an entertaining Racheal Heyhoe Flint Trophy contest at Bristol.
Delivering a timely message to the England selectors, Taunton-born Luff faced 142 balls, accrued 22 fours and shared in a match-winning fourth-wicket stand of 119 with Alex Griffiths, who registered 56, as Storm amassed 313-4 after winning the toss. The pick of the bowlers, Mady Villiers claimed 2-39 from 10 overs to derive credit in what was otherwise an uncomfortable experience for the Sunrisers attack.
Cordelia Griffith top-scored with 49 and Grace Scrivens made 46 in an opening stand of 90 as Sunrisers made a decent fist of chasing, but neither was able to go on and post a really meaningful score and Storm change bowlers Nicole Harvey and Georgia Hennessy helped the home side wrest back control, returning figures of 2-46 and 2-45 respectively, while Nat Wraith completed a trio of stumpings.
Needing to score 60 from the last 10 overs to register their first win in the tournament, Sunrisers ultimately came up short, dismissed for 277 inside 45 overs to end the 50-over campaign without a win in seven attempts.
Their confidence boosted by victory over Lightning last time out, Storm came into the season finale with momentum and elected to bat first on a sluggish surface. Although Lauren Parfitt’s demise, pinned lbw by Kate Coppack without scoring, suggested otherwise, it proved a sound decision, Fi Morris trading almost exclusively in boundaries in garnering 30 from 36 balls to give the hosts lift-off.
The advent of Villiers and spin halted Morris in her tracks, Sonali Patel holding a catch at deep backward square to reduce Storm to 51-2. No matter. Having survived a stern examination at the hands of Coppack, Luff quickly re-established Storm’s grip on the game, running hard between the wickets to raise 50 via 77 balls and dominating a partnership of 69 in 17 overs for the third wicket with Hennessy.
Sunrisers skipper Kelly Castle generated late swing to snare Hennessy lbw for 25 with the score on 120 in the 29th over, only for Griffiths to then offer her captain outstanding support in a progressive fourth-wicket alliance of 119 in 16 overs, which effectively carried the game beyond the visitors.
Luff’s second 50 occupied a mere 37 balls as she found acceleration to register her first hundred of the summer via 114 deliveries, while Griffiths went to 50 from 56 balls with 5 fours to increase the pressure on opponents rendered ragged in the field.
Griffiths holed out to Fran Wilson on the square leg boundary off Villiers, but there was no stopping 27-year-old Luff, who required a further 25 balls to move from 100 to 150 before taking off her helmet and punching the air in celebration at reaching that particular milestone for the first time in Storm colours.
Making the most of the platform provided by her skipper, Dani Gibson adopted a high-risk strategy at the death, weighing in with a brace of sixes and a four to finish unbeaten on 23 from 10 balls. Having held sway for three hours in an innings spanning 47 overs and adorned by 22 boundaries, Luff was still there at the end as Storm posted an imposing total in the September sunshine.
Undaunted, Sunrisers mustered a spirited response, Griffith and Scrivens taking advantage of some wayward bowling to stage an enterprising opening stand of 90 in 13 overs. Griffith was just one run short of a half century when she was cramped for space and offered a return catch to Hennessy, while Scrivens, turned a short delivery from Harvey around the corner and was held by Claire Nicholas at short fine leg for 46.
Wicketkeeper Nat Wraith demonstrated dexterous glove-work to remove the former Storm pairing of Alice Macleod and Naomi Dattani, while Harvey claimed the key wicket of England international Fran Wilson, bowled around her legs for a run-a-ball 34. Needing a further 89 from 15 overs to complete a first-ever victory over Storm in 50-over matches, Sunrisers slipped to 226-6 when Wraith completed a third stumping.
Villiers and Castle gave the visitors renewed hope in a seventh-wicket stand of 40, but when they departed in successive overs for 37 and 20 respectively, the game was all but up.
At the close of play, Sophie said: “I’m really chuffed and feeling over the moon. When I look back at the start of the season, I wasn’t consistent enough with my scoring, so to finish like I have during the back end of the season is pleasing. What’s more pleasing, is getting us over the line to a position where we have runs on the board and something to defend.
“I have some great players around me and Alex Griffiths and Dani Gibson gave us real impetus. If it (England call-up) comes, then it comes. I’d like to think that they’re looking and that my scores have not gone unnoticed. I have a responsibility to score runs for Western Storm and that’s where my focus lies. I want to be challenging for and winning trophies next season and I know the other girls want that too.”