Einarson edges Sinclair to earn GSOC Tour Challenge playoff spot

Kerri Einarson in action during the seventh round-robin draw of the Tour Challenge on Nov. 8, 2018, in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Kerri Einarson became the first to qualify for the Tour Challenge Tier 1 women’s playoffs leading the way with a 3-0 record.

Einarson, who fell in a tiebreaker two weeks ago at the Canadian Beef Masters, earned her third consecutive victory defeating Team Jamie Sinclair 4-3 in the seventh round-robin draw Thursday.

Team Einarson, from Gimli, Man., have one pool play match in hand in the evening against Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan.

“It feels pretty good,” Team Einarson third Val Sweeting said. “I struggled a bit with draw weight in that game, I was a little bit (all) over the map, so I want to tighten that up for tonight. The girls are playing great and we’re happy to be into playoffs but just want to keep learning, keep getting better. This event has been good to Kerri and I, so we want to keep that rolling.”

Sweeting is the double defending champion skipping her previous squad to back-to-back Tour Challenge Tier 1 women’s titles in 2016 and 2017. Einarson won her second Tour Challenge Tier 2 trophy last season but has a new “all-skip” squad this year with Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur. The foursome have been on fire on tour with four titles already.

“I think it’s a really good field and we’ll have to be strong,” Sweeting said. “The Tour Challenge is a great event. We’re happy to be here and happy to be in playoffs so hopefully, we can keep that going.”

Einarson stole one in the fourth to take the lead 2-1 when Sinclair was light on her last. It was the opposite miss for Sinclair in five though. Looking to draw for a deuce, Sinclair rolled heavy this time and had to settle for a single that tied it back up.

The reigning Players’ champion from Chaska, U.S., missed a double attempt in six, however, Einarson was unable to capitalize as she had to hit the paint in full and her last rock was light of the house. The misfortune continued as Sinclair (0-3) had a chance to draw for two in the seventh and go up one but rolled right through the rings that knotted it 3-3 heading into the final stanza.

An open hit in eight secured the victory and a playoff spot for Einarson.

“Both teams kind of had some chances but we were happy,” Sweeting said. “We put ourselves in a good position coming home and that’s all you could ask for. Kerri made a couple great shots there. It was a little back and forth but that happens. Happy to come out in the end.”

Elsewhere, Homan jumped to a 2-0 record with an 8-2 trumping over Team Cory Christensen (0-2) of the United States. Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., also moved up to 2-0 with a 5-3 win over Team Casey Scheidegger (0-2) of Lethbridge, Alta.

Team Jennifer Jones (1-1) stole their way to a 7-3 victory over Team Allison Flaxey (1-2) in an all-Winnipeg battle. The reigning world champion Jones didn’t need the hammer to build a 5-0 lead. Jones opened up with a steal in the first freezing on the button and Flaxey’s last shot stopped short.

Team Jones turned on the pressure valve in the second to stretch the gap to 3-0. Jones sat two counters plus three other rocks cluttering up the house and Flaxey looked for a runback but her shooter over-curled and was off the mark.

Team Flaxey had seven of their rocks in play in three but Team Jones was lying two counters again and resulted in yet another double steal. Flaxey raised a guard but was unable to shuffle all of the rocks in the house as Jones’s pair remained untouched.

Flaxey got on the board drawing for a point in the fourth and turned the tables with a steal of two of her own in five as Jones came up short. Jones was limited to a single in six in her first try with the hammer but tacked on another stolen single in seven for early handshakes.

The 2016 Masters champion Flaxey, from Caledon East, Ont., is playing one province west joining third Kate Cameron, second Taylor McDonald and lead Raunora Westcott. This is their Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut as a foursome and follows up a title victory last weekend at the DEKALB Superspiel in Morris, Man.

Reigning Olympic gold medallists Team John Shuster of the United States were the first in the men’s division to lock up a playoff spot. Shuster (3-0) scored two in the eighth to fend off Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin 4-3 in a repeat of the Pyeongchang Winter Games gold-medal match. Edin dropped to a 0-3 record.

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

Round-robin play runs through to Friday night with the top eight teams overall in each division qualifying for Saturday’s quarterfinals. The semifinals are set for Saturday evening with all finals scheduled for Sunday.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $25,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask.

UP NEXT: The Tour Challenge continues at 3 p.m. ET with broadcast coverage on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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