Crunch time as playoffs loom at Scotties - Metro US

Crunch time as playoffs loom at Scotties

To repeat as Canadian women’s curling champion, Jennifer Jones will need to take the same gruelling path she did last year – and that suits her just fine.

Jones slid a draw to the eight-foot with her final shot in the 10th end Thursday night to beat B.C.’s Marla Mallett 6-5 in the 17th and final draw at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Jones, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin controlled the must-win game from the start but needed the knee-knocking draw to advance to a Friday tiebreaker (4 p.m. ET), where the foursome will face upstart P.E.I., led by sisters Rebecca Jean and Robyn MacPhee.

The Canadian team needed a victory against Mallett to avoid being the second straight defending champion to miss the playoffs at the Scotties. Mallett had already clinched first place and a spot in Saturday’s 1-versus-2 Page playoff game, but still put up a game fight against the two-time national champion.

Just like in 2008, Jones (7-4) will need four wins over a three-day stretch of playoffs to keep her title – but she’s relieved just to have the chance.

“We’re still alive, and that’s all you can ask for,” said Jones. “We have to play as good as we can (against P.E.I.), and hopefully that’s good enough to keep going.”

Mallett finished the round robin on a disappointing note, losing her final two games and looking far less sharp than she did earlier in the week. But the former world junior champion isn’t overly concerned about her team’s rough Thursday.

“There’s certainly some things we need to improve on,” said Mallett. “We’ll be sure to discuss those and fix those for when we come out for the next game.”

Mallett is one of the more focused skips around, and acknowledged she hasn’t been able to enjoy the cheers of the home crowd as much as she would like.

“You feel the support when you walk in here, but I’ve really gotta maintain my focus on the process and not the outcome,” said Mallett. “But it certainly does feel good when you hear the cheer of the crowd.”

Mallett (8-3) will face Quebec’s Marie-France Larouche in Friday night’s marquee Page playoff game (9:30 p.m. ET), with the winner advancing directly to Sunday’s final (8 p.m. ET). Larouche (7-4) looked strong in defeating Manitoba’s Barb Spencer 9-4 in the morning draw, then beating Saskatchewan’s Stefanie Lawton 7-5 in the afternoon.

The Quebec foursome looked out of it following a pair of one-sided losses on Wednesday, but now appears to be hitting its stride at the best possible time.

“It’s great for us,” said Larouche. “We needed to win those. Stefanie’s team is very strong, and played so well all week. This was like a (playoff) game.”

Lawton (7-4) finished third, and will play in the 3-versus-4 Page playoff game Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET) against the winner of the Canada-P.E.I. showdown. Whoever emerges from the 3-versus-4 showdown will face the loser of the B.C.-Quebec game in Saturday’s semifinal (7 p.m. ET).

Lawton capped an incredible turnaround with a nerve-wracking 7-5 win over Spencer (2-9). Her Saskatoon-based foursome scored three with the hammer in the third end, and led 7-2 at one point before Spencer made it interesting with a two-point eighth end and a steal of one in the ninth.

Considered a pre-tournament favourite, the 28-year-old Lawton opened the Scotties with three straight losses before hitting the win column with a wild 12-11 win over P.E.I. in Draw 6. It was the first of six straight wins for Saskatchewan, propelling the team back into the playoff race.

“We definitely talked about (the slow start),” said Lawton. “We just had to encourage ourselves and remind ourselves that we weren’t playing badly.”

Lawton said the difficult start didn’t change the way the team approached the rest of the schedule.

“For us, we’ve stayed pretty loose considering our backs were against the wall,” said Lawton. “I think that’s the key for our team, to stay loose, because that’s how we curl our best.”

Rebecca Jean MacPhee (7-4) completed a solid round robin with impressive wins over Canada and B.C., giving P.E.I. its best record since the MacPhee sisters went 10-1 in 2003 on a team skipped by Suzanne Gaudet.

“(Thursday was) a big day,” said Rebecca Jean. “We’re just delighted. We knew we had to come out and play strong two games, and we feel we did.”

Alberta’s Cheryl Bernard (6-5) had a chance to qualify for the tiebreaker, but dropped a 6-5 extra-end heartbreaker to Ontario’s Krista McCarville (6-5), who had been eliminated by the Territories’ Kerry Galusha (4-7) earlier in the day.

Bernard trailed for most of the game, but rallied for a single in the ninth end and a steal of one in the 10th to force extra time. McCarville pulled out the win with a draw to the four-foot for a single in the 11th.

Nova Scotia’s Nancy McConnery (2-9) finished a difficult Scotties on a winning note, getting past Maritime rival Heather Strong of the Northwest Territories 7-6 in 11 ends. Strong (5-6) began the day in contention but lost a 6-5 decision to New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly (5-6) in the morning before falling to McConnery.

Notes: Nova Scotia finished with its worst record since the 1995 national championship in Calgary, when Halifax’s Virginia Jackson went 0-11. … Spencer’s 2-9 showing is the worst for Manitoba in the history of the tournament. … Thursday night’s round robin finale drew 4,007 fans to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, bringing the tournament total to 50,010. … Bigger crowds brought better cheers, the most creative of which came from a group of Jones fans sitting at one end of the rink: “Dawn! Jill! Cathy! Jen! Team Canada, You’re a Ten !”

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