A fireworks display from big-hitting Colin de Grandhomme couldn't stop the Auckland Aces going down by 21 runs to a resurgent Canterbury Wizards side at Hagley Oval.
Sent in by Aces captain Michael Bates (standing in for Gareth Hopkins) and needing victory to stay in HRV contention, the Wizards recovered strongly from early wobbles to storm to a competitive 201-6.
Dean Brownlie and Rob Nicol, smiting three fours off Matt Quinn's opening over, both got flying starts before giving their wickets away, leaving Peter Fulton (48 off 31) and Tom Latham (44 off 31) for a boisterous, 91-run fourth-wicket stand that built a sturdy platform through the middle eight overs.
Colin Munro's return to the Aces was especially welcomed by Fulton, who blasted back-to-back sixes off his first two deliveries - blustery conditions testing the bowlers throughout. And while the reintroduction of a brisk de Grandhomme (2-25 off four) provided temporary damage control - the all-rounder taking out both Latham and Fulton in the 16th over, that respite was temporary.
An aggressive Brendon Diamanti (25 off 10) and Andrew Ellis (23* off 15) creamed three sixes and four boundaries from the death overs, a final flourish that ruined what had otherwise been a fair effort from Bates, who suffered 20 runs being slaughtered from the final over even whilst picking up Diamanti's wicket. It was the end of a brutal 45-run partnership in the last minutes of the innings that would cost the Aces the match.
A sluggish start exacerbated the pressure on the Aucklanders, Munro's bad day at the office continuing when his first slashing off-drive was plucked by a diving Fulton to send him home with a duck. But the entry of de Grandhomme had spectators sitting up as he climbed into the spinners to pelt seven sixes, his half-century arriving off just 24 deliveries.
He rode his luck, too - dropped twice off Ronnie Hira before his luck ran out in the 15th over, caught off Andrew Ellis for a blistering 65 off 33. The remaining order couldn't haul in the required run rate, which remained parked in double figures - the acid now on the Aces to defeat the SKYCITY Northern Knights in home and away games ahead of the Seddon Park finals while the Wizards head off to meet the Devon Hotel Central Stags on 7 January.