Team Homan outduel Team Muirhead in thriller at Players’ Championship

Rachel Homan hits a perfect angle raise takeout to score three points against Eve Muirhead and take a 4-2 lead in pool play at the Princess Auto Players' Championship.

Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan and Team Eve Muirhead from Scotland put on a curling clinic Thursday night in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.

Both skips were firing on all cylinders but the few misses were costly and Homan emerged victorious 7-3 to improve to a 2-2 round-robin record with one group game remaining Friday.

Team Homan (2-2) went level on the day after losing 8-4 to Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones in a game that was really decided in one end. Homan’s rock in the third end landed in the worst possible spot allowing Jones to make a double and count five. Homan's other loss came to RCF's Team Alina Kovaleva during the opening draw Tuesday and just a day after capturing her record-extending 11th Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling women's title.

“Obviously, we needed a win,” said Team Homan third Emma Miskew, who shot 93 per cent in the game. “They were making a ton of shots and putting a lot of pressure on us, so it feels really good to come out of that game with a win.”

Team Homan shot 88 per cent as a unit with Team Muirhead not far behind at 85 per cent and the harbinger to the great game came before the game even started as even the draw to the button shootout for hammer was intense. Sarah Wilkes put it right on the pin for Team Homan and Lauren Grey needed to match. Gray was able to land on the lid but not the pinhole as 19.6 cm gave the hammer to Homan.

“It’s not even just the hammer,” Miskew said. “All of those go towards potentially getting into playoffs or eliminated from playoffs, so those draws mean more than just getting hammer. To be able to get a zero out there, regardless of whether we got hammer or not definitely was important for last stone draw but to get hammer as well was really nice. With five-rock rule and lots of rocks in play it doesn’t make a huge, huge difference but it’s nicer to start with it versus not.”

Muirhead poured the pressure on to start though and forced Homan to draw for just a single in the opening end with the Humpty’s Champions Cup winner finishing at the button for fun.

A rare Homan miss on a double attempt in the second allowed Muirhead to draw for a deuce and take a 2-1 advantage. Team Homan charged back in the third and were threatening to score until Muirhead executed a triple takeout to clear out the house and led to a blank.

That’s when Team Homan did what Team Homan does when their opponents leave them an opening. Homan lined up an angle raise takeout and scored three critical points to jump back ahead.

“Unbelievable,” Miskew said. “A game-saver there. All the credit for that one.”

Muirhead was stymied in the fifth with no option but to blank and was looking for the same in the sixth but her hit and roll out attempt landed right on the nose and stuck around to count for a single.

That handed the hammer back to Homan, who capitalized on another Muirhead mistake to deliver an open hit to score three more critical points that finished the game an end early.

“It was like one great shot after another,” Miskew said. “You didn’t want to be the one that missed the first one because then you’re going to get punished for it. We were really just trying to stay in the moment, keep throwing it as good as we could and hope in the end that we made one more than they did.”

Muirhead, who is a three-time Players’ Championship winner, had her 31st birthday spoiled as her squad slipped to a 0-4 record and was eliminated from playoff contention.

Elsewhere, Jones (2-2) also split her pair of games on the day falling 7-4 to the short-handed Team Satsuki Fujisawa of Japan. Lead Yurika Yoshida left the bubble to quarantine back home in order to prepare for the world mixed doubles championship next month in Scotland. Despite the handicap, Team Fujisawa are rolling and improved to a 3-1 record.

Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg (3-1) appear to have returned to championship form picking up a 9-6 victory over RCF’s Team Alina Kovaleva (2-2). Team Hasselborg won three consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles last season before the shutdown but struggled in their bid to make it four in a row in the series going 0-4 through the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Edmonton’s Team Brendan Botcher (1-3) grabbed their first win of the tournament with a 7-6 extra-end victory over Switzerland’s Team Peter de Cruz (2-2). Team Bottcher finished runners-up to Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat in the Humpty’s Champions Cup men’s final Monday.

Meanwhile, Team Mouat became the first to qualify for the playoffs earlier Thursday in Draw 10 with a 6-3 win over Team Jason Gunnlaugson of Morris, Man. Mouat moved up to a 4-0 record and a seven-game win streak stretching back to the Humpty’s Champions Cup quarterfinals Sunday.

Friday is moving day at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship and the action continues at 10 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. local time. Broadcast coverage resumes at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time featuring Bottcher against Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Sportsnet with online streaming at Sportsnet Now (Canada) and Yare (international).

NOTES: The Princess Auto Players’ Championship features 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … Both divisions are split into two pools for round-robin play with the top six overall qualifying for Saturday’s quarterfinals. … The semifinals go down Saturday evening with both championship games scheduled for Sunday.

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