Retooled Team Muirhead sharp in Oakville Fall Classic victory

Eve Muirhead shoots a stone during the 2018 National Grand Slam of Curling in Conception Bay South, N.L. (Anil Mungal)

OAKVILLE, Ont. — Eve Muirhead clicked quickly with her revamped roster to start their World Curling Tour campaign in the winner’s circle.

A critical score of four points in the fifth end propelled Muirhead and her retooled Scottish squad to a 5-2 victory over Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland during the Cameron’s Brewing Oakville Fall Classic women’s final Monday afternoon.

The four-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion Muirhead said it felt really good to kick off the season with a win.

“Our plan was to try and come out pretty strong at the start of the season,” Muirhead said. “For us, we have to try and get a few points and guarantee our Grand Slam spots because we were slowly going down that ranking.

“I’m really, really pleased. The girls played fantastic all weekend. I’ve never played this event before, I’ve never actually been in Oakville. What a great little town and a great little club.”

Team Muirhead entered the event 17th on the WCT’s Order of Merit following a disappointing season last year plus a lineup shuffle with longtime second Vicki Chalmers stepping back from the sport. Lead Lauren Gray moved up to third, Jennifer Dodds slid over from third to second and alternate Vicky Wright took over at lead.

“It’s the same group of people but a different combination so it really is kind of a new team,” Muirhead said. “For us, I think we have figured out where we’re most comfortable in positions and we played well.”

Labour Day lived up to its billing as a long weekend. Team Muirhead finished the tournament with a 7-1 record including a 7-3 win over Team Megan Balsdon of London, Ont., during the quarterfinals late Sunday night and were up early for a 7-5 victory over Edmonton’s Team Kelsey Rocque in the semifinals Monday morning.

“It was a marathon,” Muirhead said. “Yesterday we had three back-to-back games, got back to the hotel at 1 a.m. and were up for the semifinals at seven. It’s been a long weekend and definitely a test of endurance.”

The reigning world champion Tirinzoni entered the final riding a six-game unbeaten streak but couldn’t capitalize with the hammer through the first four ends. Alina Paetz, who throws last rocks for Team Tirinzoni, was heavy on her draw shot in the second end to give up a steal and rolled too far again in the fourth to miss an opportunity for two and settle for a single point.

Muirhead took control with her first crack of the hammer in the fifth end to snap the 1-1 tie. The 2013 world champion Muirhead picked out Tirinzoni’s rock to score four points and never looked back from there. Muirhead sat four more stones in the sixth to force Paetz into a draw for just a point that counted by an inch following a close measurement.

After Muirhead executed a double takeout to blank the seventh and retain the hammer for the final frame, Tirinzoni opted to shake hands early.

“I think we played the scoreboard pretty well out there and managed to get that big four-ender, which definitely helped,” Muirhead said. “We had a lot of great shots that end. I think they made a couple of mistakes, which they don’t usually make but as soon as they did we capitalized on it and kind of punished them for those mistakes.”

Muirhead also denied Tirinzoni an opportunity to vault into first place in the WCT rankings for the first time in her career. A title victory would have given Tirinzoni — who entered the week No. 4 — a slim 0.02-point lead over current No. 1 Team Rachel Homan. Tirinzoni will have another chance at the top spot this upcoming weekend during the StuSells Oakville Tankard with Homan’s Ottawa-based club not starting their season until the following week.

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller topped Team Chang-Min Kim of South Korea 7-3 for the men’s championship.

It’s the second straight title victory on the season for Team Schwaller, who captured the Baden Masters in their home country last week.

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