LONDON, ONT. - Sherry Middaugh is on an early season roll like she's never seen before. The trick will be converting it to a fifth Ontario women's curling championship.
Middaugh and her Coldwater rink of Jo-Ann Rizzo, Lee Merklinger and Leigh Armstrong beat Suzanne Birt of Charlottetown 9-3 Monday at Highland in the final of the 15th annual Southwestern Ontario Women's Charity Cashspiel. It was Middaugh's third win in five events this season -- with the other two resulting in a semifinal and a quarterfinal finish.
"Never," she said if she'd ever started a season this well. "But then again, I've never played this much so early before, either. To have five events midway through October is something else; most clubs have only just got their ice in."
Overall, it was Middaugh's fourth win in this event, which had raised more than $200,000 for breast cancer care and research, to go along with two runner-up finishes. So it's clear London and St. Thomas are welcome destinations.
"It's the people," she said. "I enjoy seeing the same faces, seeing the same volunteers. Plus we stayed at Jim and Sue Waite's this year, so that was like the comforts of home away from home."
It's evident the rink was in a comfort zone all weekend, qualifying out of the A flight as did Birt.
"Last year at this time, we were just scraping by," Middaugh said. "This year, we've been a lot more consistent and we just hope to build on that. It's always tough, though, when regionals come around in early January, because you've been off the ice for a while over Christmas and it's hard to get back on that roll like you can in the bonspiel season.
"We know this kind of streak won't last the whole season, but if we do hit a stumbling block, we just have to go back to the success we have had and remember what got us there. You have a dry spell from winning and sometimes you get away from knowing how to win.
"But we just need to get back there (the Ontarios). It's been too long."
Middaugh, whose last Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts appearance was in 2009, had Birt under pressure almost from the start in the final. A three in the fourth gave her the lead for good at 4-2 and she stole a vital single in the fifth when Birt just missed a runback double. After Birt was forced into taking one in the sixth, Middaugh ended it with a four in the seventh to collect the $7,000 first-place cheque.
"I thought our rock positioning early on was good," Middaugh said. "But it seemed Suzanne and I were both heavy on a few shots, or she'd make a half-shot and I'd make a half-shot. It really could have gone either way."
Birt, the 2003 cashspiel champ and a six-time P.E.I. champion, agreed, citing the steal in the fifth as the crucial point.
"I thought I threw it well," she said. "It just jumped over at the very end. I make that shot and we score two and it's a much different game."
Birt and her rink of Shelly Bradley, Robyn MacPhee and Leslie MacDougall, who earned $5,000, had gone 17 days without throwing a rock before starting play Friday as their Charlottetown CC rink had yet to install its ice.
In the morning's semifinals, Middaugh beat Tracy Horgan of Sudbury Idylwylde 7-2 while Birt took one in the eighth and final end to edge Sarah Reid of Scotland 6-5. Horgan and Reid both earned $3,000 and for Reid, it was just as well she didn't make the final as her team's flight home was out of Toronto at 6:45 p.m. Monday night. Had she beaten Birt, she would have almost certainly missed the plane.
Julie Reddick of Toronto and Cathy Auld of Mississauga, the losing quarterfinalists -- only six of the 16 rinks made the playoffs -- both pocketed $2,000 while the two C-flight runenrs-up, Highland's Marika Bakewell and Leslie Bishop of Sarnia, each won $1,000.
--- --- ---
Middaugh 201 202 xx — 7
Horgan 010 010 xx — 2
Birt 100 103 01 — 6
Reid 010 010 30 — 5
Middaugh 010 310 4x — 9
Birt 020 001 0x — 3