Jennifer Jones steals spot in Players’ Championship women’s final

Watch as Kerri Einarson wrecks on a guard to give up two as Jones steals a spot in the Players' Championship women's final.

TORONTO — You can never count out Jennifer Jones.

The reigning world champ from Winnipeg entered Saturday night’s semifinals at the Players’ Championship against cross-city rival Kerri Einarson riding an incredible 26-game winning streak stretching back to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

And who was the last person to defeat Jones? Why that would be none other than Einarson, who earned her first victory ever over Jones on the final day of January during the Scotties round-robin portion. Jones avenged that loss defeating Einarson twice — in the Page 1-2 playoff and the final — at the Scotties raising her one-sided head-to-head record to 19-1.

Thus, even as it appeared Jones’s title defence at the Players’ Championship was jeopardy with Einarson holding the hammer coming home tied, anything was possible. Einarson raised a Jones stone to knock out another on her first skip rock with the shooter sticking around as a guard. Jones drew to the top of the four-foot circle to sit a couple counters, but left Einarson an opening to tap the shot rock back for the winning point.

That was not to be, however, as Einarson’s last locked onto her own guard and crashed giving up two in the 7-5 decision. Jones stole her way into another Players’ Championship final, extending the winning streak to 27 and her head-to-head record against Einarson to 20-1.

“It was a great game,” Team Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes said. “Einarson’s team played really well and we just tried to hang tough. Jenn made a beauty on her last one and put some pressure on her.”

She added: “We have to be a little bit sharper but I feel like we’ve had a really consistent week.”

Jones will take on Jamie Sinclair’s American squad in Sunday’s final. Sinclair scored a strategic 4-3 victory over Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland to punch a ticket to her first career final in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament.

Sinclair was practically at a loss for words following her match, calling it surreal and needing a moment to collect her thoughts.

“It doesn’t really feel like a final,” Sinclair said. “I just feel like we’re still playing round-robin games, it’s just another game. We’re just turning around and going back out on the ice and making shots. I haven’t really thought about it being the finals yet. Not yet anyway.”

The fact it’s the Players’ Championship, arguably the toughest tournament on tour with 12 of the top teams of the season, made it only that much more unbelievable.

“It’s crazy,” Sinclair said. “We’re happy to be here, we’re enjoying the moment and we’re having fun out on the ice. We happen to be making a lot of good shots, so hopefully just keep the ball rolling.”

While Sinclair appears in her first final at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Players’ Championship has Jones’s name written all over it. Not only is she the defending champ, Jones has won the women’s title a record six times. She also finished runner-up when the event was also held here in 2016 making this her eighth Players’ Championship final in the 13 years the women’s tournament has been held.

“I’m so excited to be playing in another Players’ Championship final,” said Lawes, who has won three Players’ Championship titles since joining Team Jones in 2010. “Hopefully, we can bring our best game and just leave it all on the ice.”

Einarson was in charge to start the semifinal with Jones, who curled 73 percent, not able to convert with the hammer to start. Jones attempted a blank in the first but her shooter stuck around for a single and Einarson went to work in the second sitting four stones after her first skip throw. Jones ran damage control pulling off a double to sit second shot and Einarson drew to score two and take a 2-1 lead.

The teams alternated singles in three and four and Jones was held to another lone point in the fifth as she was looking to score two and tie it. Her brushers backed off early though thinking it wasn’t going to make it before realizing there was still a chance but by then it was too late to pull the string.

Einarson kept her rocks apart for a deuce in the sixth to take a 5-3 lead and Jones tapped for two in the seventh to knot it up heading into the dramatic finale.

Meanwhile, Sinclair opened with the hammer against Tirinzoni, took two in the second and remained one step ahead of the Swiss Olympic rep. The teams matched with singles in four and six and Tirinzoni scored her deuce in seven to tie it 3-3. Sinclair drew to lie two on her first skip stone in eight and didn’t need to throw her last as Tirinzoni hit, rolled and was unable to outcount the shot rock.

“There were a lot of ends that were very scary, especially in the second half,” Sinclair said. “They put a ton of pressure on us, so I was extremely nervous, I’m not going to lie, but it was kind of fun. Thankfully, we had an early lead, so we were able to play a little bit more defensive or hits because the ice was a little bit tricky. It was just a great battle out there.”

Sinclair, who skipped the U.S. side at last month’s world championship and finished fourth, has fallen to Jones twice during the streak but saw some positives in their second meeting that she’ll bring to Sunday’s final.

“We had a really good comeback in the second game against her, so hopefully, we can just start strong, put some pressure on her when she has the hammer and keep that four-foot open when we have the hammer so that we make sure we have a shot to score,” Sinclair said. “I think if we can manage to do that, it’ll be a really close game.”

The Players’ Championship men’s final gets underway first with Calgary’s Kevin Koe meeting defending champ Niklas Edin of Sweden.

Watch the men’s final on CBC at 12:30 p.m. ET followed by the women’s final on Sportsnet One at 5 p.m. ET with both games streaming online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).

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