Another strong knock from Michael Bracewell | PHOTOSPORT

Dream stays alive for defending champion

The Wellington Firebirds and Auckland Aces headed into this clash in a shootout for third spot on the table - with the Aces now left in a must-win position on Saturday against the Central Stags.

Meanwhile the Firebirds' senior players led the way with Hamish Bennett producing a sizzling 3-15 with the ball and taking the key wickets right when it counted, before captain Michael Bracewell took charge of the chase with a half century continuing his strong T20 form right when it matters.

The Auckland Aces had elected to bat on an overcast Auckland afternoon at their outer ground, but it quickly went pear-shaped against the fired up Firebirds.

The visitors were reinforced by the return of BLACKCAPS batsmen Tom Blundell and Devon Conway but it was their usual suspects with the ball who set up the solid eight-wicket win - backed up by sizzling work in the field from Nathan Smith who took an amazing flying grab to end Sean Solia's scoreless stay.

By then the Aces were already in trouble, 102/6 heading into the death overs.

Hamish Bennett was the recipient of Solia's wicket and he's just got rid of dangerman Glenn Phillips (39 off 31) earlier in the same over, the big wicket in the pivotal 17th over.

Bennett was outstanding but we was well back up by the rest of the group with Logan van Beek and Ben Sears both taking a brace at key times.

Chasing 121/9, the Firebirds again lost Finn Allen relatively early after an agrressive start, while Lockie Ferguson trumped Devon Conway with his pace early in the power play.

But the rest of the afternoon was all Firebirds, Firebirds, Firebirds  on the charge as Bracewell (54 not out off 44) combined with a thundering Blundell (41 not out off 25) in an unbroken 70-run stand for the third to bring home a comfortable but very timely win in just 14.1 overs.