Aces keep Twenty20 dream alive
Auckland held onto its hopes of defending the State Twenty 20 trophy by overcoming Wellington in a last-over thriller at Eden Park.
The Aces got up by six wickets but did so with only two balls to spare when Gareth Hopkins slammed a six over cover off Graham Napier's bowling.
Thanks to Jesse Ryder's brutal 66 off just 27 balls, which included two fours and seven powerful sixes, the Firebirds set an imposing total of 182-7 against a five-pronged attack that were all past or present Black Caps bowlers.
Napier's whirlwind 48 off 19 at the death also boosted the impressive total, while Andre Adams was the best performed bowler in dismissing openers Stephen Fleming and Michael Parlane at a cost of 27.
Wellington needed to restrict Auckland to under 105 to keep any slim chances of qualifying for the final on February 3, but never looked likely on a flat pitch and instead sought the consolation of victory on the day.
After Iain O'Brien also claimed the Aces openers, Martin Guptill for 19 and Paul Hitchcock for 10, Scott Styris and Lou Vincent went about spoiling the Firebirds' plans with panache.
The Black Caps duo put on 96 for the third wicket off just 9.2 overs and, with the score at 139-2 with six overs remaining, the result looked assured.
However, the Aces got the wobbles when Styris was dismissed for 39 off 25, then Vincent's encouraging return to form was ended when a run out cut short his 44-ball innings of 76.
That left the home side needing 20 off the last two overs and eventually 11 off the last, a task that Hopkins achieved in just four balls as he firstly swung Napier through mid-wicket for four then timed a brilliant six over deep cover to finish it off.
Hopkins walked off unbeaten on 31 from 21 balls, while Adams was not out on seven.
O'Brien was far and away Wellington's best bowler and showed plenty of pace and determination in claiming 2-30, while Grant Elliot (1-14) was the only other bowler to make a breakthrough.
So while the Firebirds' aspirations are gone, the Aces' slim hopes live on and they must beat the Central Stags in New Plymouth on Wednesday in convincing enough style to lift their net run-rate ahead of the Northern Knights.