Manitoba beats Ontario to advance to Scotties Tournament of Hearts final
Manitoba skip Michelle Englot. (The Canadian Press)
ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — After winning every game over the first five days of the Scotties, Ontario’s Rachel Homan — the world’s top-ranked curler — has lost twice in 24 hours.
Both times to Manitoba’s unflinching Michelle Englot. With just the gold-medal game to go, the 53-year-old skip has become the story of this year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Englot continued her precise, age-defying play here Friday night, outperforming Homan to win the 1-2 Page playoff, 9-8, at the Meridian Centre.
Manitoba advances directly to Sunday’s gold-medal game (7:30 p.m. EST, TSN).
Ontario is relegated to Saturday night’s semi-final (7:30 p.m. EST), where it will play the winner of the Team Canada-vs.-Northern Ontario 3-4 Page playoff game earlier Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST).
The semi-final winner plays Manitoba in the gold-medal game.
That means Englot and Homan could wind up knockin’ rocks for the third time in four nights, as Englot thumped Homan 9-5 on Thursday night to finish tied with previously undefeated Ontario atop the round-robin standings, at 10-1.
“It’s just amazing,” said Englot, a near life-long Regina resident who crossed the provincial line to team up only 12 months ago with third Kate Cameron, second Leslie Wilson and lead Raunora Westcott. “The girls played so well all week. To come out and have such a solid game tonight feels really good.
“We’re just playing our game and forcing. Rachel made a few big shots in that game, but if we keep putting the pressure on, she’s eventually going to miss. And we got a couple of misses, so took advantage of it. We’ve been taking advantage of every opportunity.”
Why is Englot’s foursome performing so well against Homan’s, the universal pre-Scotties favourite?
“I think just because we play such an aggressive game and we put the pressure on her … We can keep pace with them,” Englot said. “We can play a wide-open hit game against them, probably. So we just focused on playing our aggressive game and putting the pressure on. Like I said, eventually you hope for a miss. You don’t always get them against her, though.”
Thursday’s head-to-head round-robin win gave Manitoba the hammer to start Friday. And — as happened the night before— Englot and her team took quick advantage.
Manitoba led 2-0 after one end and 4-2 after three.
With her last throw in the fourth, Englot made a spectacular hit-and-roll-to-the-button to sit a tight, imposing three. Homan, with last rock, did well to blow up two of those stones to hold Manitoba to a steal of only one, and a 5-2 lead.
Englot seized control in the sixth, up 5-4. With Manitoba counting two in the four-foot, Homan was light on an attempted delicate tap-and-roll to stick for shot rock, before Englot’s last throw.Englot’s easy draw to the four-foot scored three.
In the eighth end, with Manitoba up 8-6, Homan threw one of the shots of the tournament. With her last throw, facing two Manitoba stones tight to the button behind an array of guards, Homan beautifully executed an in-off triple, sticking her shooter to lie three.
Most of the pro-Ontario crowd went nuts, giving Homan a standing ovation.
But Englot, ever unrattled, silenced those cheers just two minutes later with her last rock. She forcibly tapped her lone red rock in front of the T-line into the four-foot, for one point and a 9-6 lead. If Englot had whiffed, Ontario would have led 9-8.
“After I looked at it, she could have hit it anywhere,” Homan said. “It’s kind of too bad the way the angles kind of settled … She just had to make contact and she was going to make one.
“They played awesome. Kudos to them for making the final. Hopefully we’ll see them there again.”
In the ninth, Homan attempted an angle raise takeout for two and missed, but on a fluke her shooter spun into the four-foot, barely far enough for shot, and one point.
Manitoba took a 9-7 lead into the 10th, where Cameron nailed a raise double takeout to clear the house but for a single biting Ontario stone, prior to skip stones. Englot mopped up from there, wiping out one of two shot Ontario stones on last rock to clinch the win.
The losers of Saturday’s two games meet Sunday in the bronze-medal match (2:30 p.m. EST). On Friday morning, Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville secured fourth place with a 10-6 defeat of Kerry Galusha’s Northwest Territories rink, while Team Canada’s Chelsea Carey — who had nailed down third place Thursday night — finished 9-2 with a 7-4 win over Alberta’s Heather Nedohin.
NOTES: Round-robin all-stars were named Friday night, based on cumulative shooting percentages. First-teamers: Homan (skip, 84%), Ontario's Emma Miskew (third, 84%) and Joanne Courtney (second, 85%) and British Columbia’s Blaine de Jager (lead, 86%). Second-teamers: Carey (skip, 83%), BC’s Shannon Aleksic (third, 82%), Alberta’s Sarah Wilkes (second, 84%) and Weagle (86%) … Galusha won the Marj Mitchell Sportsmanship Award on a vote by her fellow curlers. It’s a first for a Northwest Territories competitor … Wendy Morgan of Burlington, Ont., won the Joan Mead Builder Award, as coach of Jennifer Jones’ team and as a key figure in the development of wheelchair curling programs.