Einarson fends off Fleury in Players’ Championship quarterfinals

Kerri Einarson (centre) delivers a rock as Briane Meilleur (left) and Shannon Birchard (right) prepare to sweep during the women's quarterfinals of the Players' Championship on April 13, 2019, in Toronto. (Anil Mungal)

TORONTO — It was a rematch but no repeat of the Manitoba Scotties final during the women’s quarters of the Players’ Championship.

Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli prevailed this time around over Team Tracy Fleury 6-4 Saturday to advance to the semifinals of the prestigious Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Einarson had an uneven round-robin stage finishing with a 2-3 record, with all three losses happening consecutively, but managed to turn it around as the week progressed.

“It feels good to be at an even record,” Einarson said. “We had a little bit of a slow start this week but every game we’re progressing and getting better each game.”

The teams met in the provincial playdown final with Fleury overcoming deficits of 5-1 and 6-3 to rally and win 13-7 to represent Manitoba at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts although their history goes farther than that.

Team Fleury third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish won the Boost National plus two Tour Challenge Tier 2 titles with Einarson. The trio stayed together after parting ways with Einarson last year and added Fleury. Einarson joined forces with former skips Val Sweeting at third, Shannon Birchard at second and Briane Meilleur at lead.

Edmonton’s Taylor McDonald, who served as Fleury’s alternate at the Scotties, subbed this week for Fyfe, who is preparing to have her second child.

Fleury started with the hammer but couldn’t convert in the first. Einarson’s shot rock was open and Fleury had an opportunity to hit on the nose for two but just clipped it and rolled to give up a steal.

“It was good we were in control,” Einarson said. “The first end, she had a hit for two but after that we really put some pressure on them and made them make some big shots.”

The force was on in the second with Einarson sitting shot rock protected under a column of granite and Fleury made a little bump and roll to get her single point to tie it.

A practically perfect fourth end from Team Einarson prepped the table for the skip to make an open tap for two points and a 3-1 lead heading into the break. Team Einarson set up another solid end in the fifth shovelling rocks into the house and Einarson pulled off a beauty short angle raise to pop out Fleury’s rock to sit four. Fleury was forced to the high-pressure draw and came up short as a measurement gave it to Einarson to extend the advantage to three.

“It’s always good. Even if you have a miss, someone is picking up after that person,” Einarson said. “We just kept those rocks in some really good spots and really kept that pressure on them and not on us.”

Fleury bounced back with a deuce in six and looked to be locked for shot in seven, however, Einarson tossed on the anti-freeze to pop it out and match for a couple to re-establish the three-point gap.

It still came down to the wire with Fleury having the potential to score three and send it into an extra end, however, Einarson made her throw a tricky shot and wrecked on a guard to end her season.

“In five-rock rule, it’s easy to give up those threes,” Einarson said. “You have one miss and that’s really what happens is how you give up a three. I made a really good one on my last. A little unlucky, I don’t know what the heck happened on my first, it just ran right there and I thought it would come up a hair but it just ran there. I made a really nice hit and roll and made her make a tough one on her last.”

Einarson is now set to play Team Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask. Silvernagle scored two in the eighth end to edge Calgary’s Chelsea Carey 5-4.

Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg and Team Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., face off in the other women’s semifinals. Hasselborg kept her undefeated streak intact, stretching to six wins in the tournament, by holding off Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa 5-4. Scheidegger shaded Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones 6-5.

Switzerland’s Team Peter de Cruz ousted Winnipeg’s Team Reid Carruthers 7-4 in the final men’s tiebreaker to qualify for the playoffs. It was the second straight men’s tiebreaker for Carruthers, who cruised 7-2 by Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat in the morning. Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson eliminated Toronto’s Team John Epping 5-2 earlier as well to advance.

De Cruz takes on Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., Paterson plays Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Calgary’s Kevin Koe clashes with Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., and Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher battles Team Niklas Edin of Sweden in the men’s quarterfinals at 4 p.m. ET airing exclusively online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

The Players’ Championship features a combined $300,000 purse with the winning teams claiming $30,000 each. Also on the line is the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the overall season points champions. Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan clinched the women’s title while the men’s trophy is still up for grabs.

The men’s and women’s semifinals are at 8 p.m. ET (Sportsnet 360) with both finals scheduled for Sunday.

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