Scotties notebook: Analytics, instinct support Homan’s gutsy call

Rachel Homan shoots a stone during round-robin play Wednesday at the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

SYDNEY, N.S. — For any other skip it would have seemed like a questionable call, but Ontario’s Rachel Homan isn’t like any other skip.

Homan held the hammer in the ninth against Jennifer Jones during Thursday night’s action in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and opted to give up a steal to tie the game rather than claim a two-point lead and lose last-rock advantage for the final frame.

Gutsy? More like gut instinct, with Homan connecting on her final stone of the game to tack three on the board in the 9-6 victory over the reigning Canadian and world champion.

Sure, that 10th end got a little tense but Team Homan third Emma Miskew cited the five-rock rule as key to their decision to keep the all-important hammer. The modified rule was implemented for all events this season, however, it’s been in place on the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling circuit for the past four-and-a-half seasons. Five-rock suits Team Homan’s aggressive style of play, particularly lead Lisa Weagle’s mastery of the tick shot to clear aside guards, with a leading eight women’s titles in the series during that time frame.

“With the five-rock rule, being up two isn’t as much of a cushion as it was with four-rock rule,” Miskew said. “We feel pretty confident being tied. Lisa is really good at her ticks and we felt good being in control of the game like that, so we made that decision instead of being up two. The last end looked a little scary for a bit, it might have been a good decision, maybe not.”

The numbers support Homan’s decision either way even though it’s not the case across the board. Women’s teams hold a combined 246-49 wins-losses record (83 per cent) this season while up by two points without the hammer in the final end and are 287-104 (73 per cent) when tied while holding the hammer, according to CurlingZone’s stats database.

However, Homan bucks the trend entering the match at a perfect 7-0 tied with the hammer and only 1-1 on the year when up two without the hammer. That lone loss could also still be weighing heavily as it was a defeat to Anna Hasselborg in the Canadian Beef Masters championship game with the Swedish skip scoring three for the win.

Even looking at Homan’s numbers over the past three seasons, she was in control regardless with a stellar 16-1 record while tied with the hammer and 18-3 when up two points without the hammer.

It just came down to which position they felt more comfortable with as they’re aware Jones would still give them a fight.

“We knew they were going to play great. It’s always a tight battle against them,” Miskew said. “It was nice to get an early lead and have a little bit of a cushion because we knew they were going to have a really good second-half. Our goal is to make the playoffs on the weekend and then if we do I’m sure we’ll see them again.”

Homan had built a solid lead to start, scoring three points in the second, forcing Jones to a single in the third and adding a deuce in the fourth to lead 5-1. You can never count out Jones, and the six-time Scotties champion battled right back with a three-spot of her own in five to close within one and alternating singles in six and seven, followed by a blank in eight set up the dramatic finish.

The 2017 world champion Homan also earned a convincing 7-2 victory over Wild Card’s Casey Scheidegger in the afternoon draw.

“It was really good today to come out with two wins. We knew that both games today were going to be a battle,” Miskew said. “It was nice earlier today we played really well and we had a good one, so play tonight we were trying to get through. We knew Jenn was going to give us a good game. We know we’re going to have to come out firing tomorrow. Both teams look like they’re playing really well, so we’ll need to be playing well, too.”

Playoff picture looking like an inkblot

The picture for the final-four Page playoffs looks more like a Rorschach test at this point with nobody breaking loose from the pack just yet and just two draws remaining for the eight-team Championship Pool.

Only two wins separate first from last, so depending on what you see in the standings, it could still be anyone’s game.

Homan, Alberta’s Chelsea Carey and Saskatchewan’s Robyn Silvernagle are tied at the top of the table with matching 7-2 records. Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville, Wild Card’s Casey Scheidegger and Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt fall in line next at 6-3 while Jones and British Columbia’s Sarah Wark round out the end at 5-4.

Playoffs? For now teams will be looking to win another game (just one more game) and try to control their own destiny rather than leave it to fate.

Fleury not in the Championship Pool forecast

Tracy Fleury and Manitoba’s run at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts came to an end following an 8-5 loss to B.C. in the lone tiebreaker match during the morning draw to determine the final Championship Pool berth.

Fleury opened with the hammer, however the game proved to summarize her week as a whole as she fell behind early and was unable to erase the deficit.

The class-act Fleury owned up to her mistakes and didn’t blame the loss on tricky ice or bad rocks or any other curling cliche skips can tend to fall back on.

“I just personally struggled a bit with some execution, had a hard time feeling it at times, I’d say, but we still had a lot of fun,” Fleury said. “We wish we could keep playing, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Manitoba dropped their first couple games of the week (including a 7-5 decision to B.C.), but they shook it off winning four straight. They weren’t in the clear though and a 7-5 extra-end defeat at the hands of McCarville to wrap up Pool A play put Fleury into the tiebreaker against Wark.

The turning point of the game came early as Fleury faced three counters with her last in the second stanza and wrecked on a guard. Another steal of three in the eighth made it an 8-3 advantage for B.C. with only two ends remaining. Fleury managed to take two back in the ninth but ran out of rocks coming home.

“I think we’ve achieved a lot, especially given it’s our first year and we’re still learning and stuff, so to make it to the Scotties was a big goal of ours and we accomplished that,” Fleury said. “I think we’ll learn from this and move on.”

Third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish earned silver at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last year as the Wild Card team with skip Kerri Einarson. The East St. Paul trio stayed together after parting ways with Einarson and looked outside Manitoba’s borders importing Fleury, who lives in Sudbury, Ont.

Highlights of their inaugural campaign include defeating Einarson’s new team in a come-from-behind victory during the Manitoba Scotties final last month and a runner-up result against Homan at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 in November.

Team Fleury’s season isn’t over as they’re ranked No. 7 on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date list and in good standing to receive an invitation in a couple weeks for the Players’ Championship taking place April 9-14 at Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto. Fleury also has an opportunity to score some bonus cash at the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling marquee event should they finish within the top four in Pinty’s Cup points.

“We love the Players’ [Championship] so I think that’ll be a good finale to our season,” Fleury said.

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