The Northern Diamonds are getting ready for an “exciting” end to the week as they bid to keep alive their Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy title defence. 

The Diamonds have two games remaining in the group stage, and it is highly likely that winning both will see them secure a top-three finish and advance to the knockout stages.

They are currently sat in fifth place, three points behind third-placed Southern Vipers with a maximum of 10 to play for.

First up are arch-rivals Thunder at Sale on Wednesday (10.30am) before Sunrisers visit The Seat Unique Riverside in Durham on Saturday. Both of those teams are below the Diamonds with a slim chance of progression themselves.

The Diamonds can’t qualify directly for the final, as they did last year en-route to the title. Instead, they are aiming for a place in next week’s semi-final Eliminator fixture.

The champions boosted their hopes with a 31-run victory over Western Storm at Taunton on Sunday, defending a target of 282 in a match reduced to 43 overs per side because of rain. 

It was their first win in six matches, since beating South East Stars at Beckenham on July 2. They had lost four of their previous five RHFT fixtures.

Lauren Winfield-Hill starred with 83 as the Diamonds posted 281-3, while Lizzie Scott and Katie Levick struck twice apiece as the Storm replied with 250-7.

Leah Dobson was another key performer with a late 68 not out – her highest score in regional cricket. 

And the Scarborough-born batter said: “Anything can happen, and cricket is a very funny game. But the eliminators are still in our sights. “We’ve got the team to do it, and we’ve got the confidence to do it.

“It’s going to be a very exciting next two games.”

It’s advantageous to the Diamonds that the three teams directly above them – South East Stars, Southern Vipers and Central Sparks – all play each other this week.

The Vipers host the Stars on Wednesday before the Sparks host the Stars on Saturday, when the Vipers travel to leaders Blaze. 

Something such as a tie or a No Result here or there may throw a spanner into the works, but two wins should secure qualification for Dobson and company.

“When you add in the fact that Wednesday is a derby – for me myself, as a Yorkshire woman, it’s always going to be a good game,” continued the 22-year-old. “A lot of the girls see it as a ‘different’ game.

“Throughout the age groups we’ve always had that rivalry with Lancashire, and it just leads on to the senior teams.”

Most importantly, Diamonds are aiming to qualify for the knockouts. Though a win would bring the added bonus of denying Thunder the season’s treble in the cross-Pennine derby. They won at Blackpool in the Charlotte Edwards Cup in July before beating the Diamonds at York in July in the first of the two RHF Trophy fixtures.

While Storm perhaps got closer to their 282 target than the Diamonds would have liked on Sunday, it was a comprehensive win – but one which captain Hollie Armitage believes can be improved upon. 

That was her theory immediately after the match.

“We have to take what we did well from the Storm win and move on to the Thunder game, keep working on our strengths and be the team we know we can be,” added Dobson.

“Thunder are getting stronger and stronger, but so are we. It could be a really good game.

“It all leads back to playing to our strengths, both as an individual and a team.

“Off the back of any game like the Storm one, you’re going to gain confidence. 

“Loz (Winfield-Hill) is one of the best batters around at the minute, and Sterre (Kalis, she made 45) is getting a lot of time in the middle. It’s great to see them perform both as team-mates and friends.”

Against the Storm, Diamonds handed a debut to on-loan seamer Sophia Turner, who is with the region for the rest of the season – however long it lasts.

She took the new ball and encouraged for 1-31 from seven overs.

Unfortunately, however, given she is on loan from Thunder, she will be unable to play against her parent club on Wednesday. 

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