Manitoba's Jennifer Jones remains on a roll at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The veteran bested an up-and-coming team from Ontario led by Rachel Homan 9-7 in the early draw on Thursday, leaving Manitoba as the lone unbeaten team at 8-0 and guaranteeing them a berth in the weekend's playoff games.
"They were well earned," Jones said of all the points scored. "It wasn't like there were any freebies out there. It was a fun game to play."
"It just came down to a couple shots here and there," Homan said.
This was a close contest that finished with a seesaw battle of two pointers for the team with the hammer, but it was Ontario that jumped out to the early lead to start the game.
Jones, a four-time winner playing in her ninth straight Scotties, had the opportunity to score four in the second on her final stone, but jammed the attempted double takeout and gave up a steal of one to trail 2-0.
After blanking the third end, however, Jones found her opportunity for the big score, as after Homan missed a freeze with her final stone, the Manitoba skip had an easy shot for four.
Homan responded with a big fifth end – including a risky first stone that she slipped narrowly between two guards for a takeout – to score three with the hammer, moving Ontario to a 5-4 lead at the midway point.
That drew a huge cheer from the partisan crowd at the K-Rock Centre, which has gotten behind the young Ottawa team in a big way this week.
"After I threw it, it didn't look so easy," Homan told TSN at the intermission. "It's fun [to make the big shots], especially with the home crowd."
The teams then exchanged leads in the sixth, seventh and eighth, with Jones still vulnerable sitting up 8-7 but without the hammer heading into the final two ends after back-to-back measurements went Manitoba's way.
But she stole one to make it 9-7 after Homan came up short on a draw in the ninth, setting up a final end in which the Manitoba skip wiped all of the Ontario rocks out of the house with her last rock to make Homan's final shot unnecessary.
Ontario's first loss dropped it to 7-1. It was incredibly the team's first defeat in 31 games dating back to November.
"I predicted that we were going to lose a couple games," Homan said of the tournament. "It's nationals; it's tough. So many good teams."
In Thursday morning's other game, Saskatchewan made an incredible comeback against the defending champs, rallying from down 5-1 after four ends.
Led by skip Jill Shumay – making her first Scotties appearance at age 38 – Saskatchewan put up points in five straight ends on Team Canada's Heather Nedohin, including stealing four single points in four ends to win 7-5.
That victory moved Saskatchewan to 5-3, greatly improving their chances of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the playoffs. Canada fell to 6-2 and were visibly upset with their collapse.
Saskatchewan remains in a dogfight for that final postseason position, with Thursday night's draw against British Columbia (4-3) a pivotal game. Generally speaking, teams cannot move on with more than four losses in their 11 round robin games.