ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- Jennifer Jones made sure the perfect storm missed Mile One Stadium last night.
The Manitoba skip pulled off an 8-5 win over Alberta's Cathy King in a pivotal game at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, assumed sole possession of first place and ended all possibility of a five-way tie at the top of the standings.
Had Manitoba lost, the Jones foursome would have fallen into a logjam at 6-3 with Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Canada. Instead, Manitoba leads the pack at 7-2 -- and has clinched at least a playoff tie-breaker -- while Alberta is in danger of missing the playoffs at 5-4.
"That's great news," Jones said. "Our first goal has been attained and now we'll look at trying to be in the 1-2 game."
Manitoba can clinch first place with wins today against Saskatchewan (11:30 a.m.) and the Yukon-Territories (5 p.m.), but the dream of top spot looked to be a long way off yesterday morning when Jones lost 8-2 to Rebecca-Jean MacPhee of P.E.I.
Manitoba came across as anything but a contender in that one.
"The biggest thing is we never like to have back-to-back losses," Jones said. "All year long when we play poorly, the next game out, we come out and play great. That (loss) wasn't a bad thing. It was somewhat of a wake-up call."
King wasn't aware after the game that she missed a chance for a share of first place.
"Don't even tell me that," said King, who beat MacPhee 7-6 in the morning draw. "We had our chance and didn't take advantage of it."
The game turned in Manitoba's favour in the ninth end, when King took out her own rock on a takeout attempt and left Jones with an easy draw for two. In the 10th, King could have scored the tying deuce with a double-and-stick shot, but she only took out one Manitoba stone.
"It wasn't our best game and now we've gotta win two (today)," said King, whose team plays Nova Scotia and Ontario today.
Saskatchewan (Stefanie Lawton), B.C. (Kelly Scott) and Canada (four-time defending champion Colleen Jones) are all in the thick of things at 6-3, and Alberta, Ontario (Jenn Hanna) and New Brunswick (Sandy Comeau) are not out of it at 5-4, meaning today should be intriguing, to say the least.
"It's going to be a real slugfest to the end," said Colleen Jones, who won twice yesterday, 7-4 over B.C. and 10-6 over the Yukon-Territories (Kerry Koe). "We're ready to play really tough now."
Scott earned a split yesterday, beating the Yukon-Territories 8-3, while Lawton fell from first place for the first time this week with a pair of losses, 6-5 to Comeau and 7-6 to "Hot Shot" Hanna.
The Ontario skip made the shot of the week in the evening game to win and stay in contention. Forced to come through a tiny port and make a tap-back with her last rock in the 10th, she played it beautifully and raised her stone right to the button for a 7-6 win.
"If I had been a betting person, I wouldn't have bet that I'd make that either," Hanna said.
Lawton could only tip her cap and start preparing for big games today.
"She made a great shot," she said. "We'll be good to go (today)."
Just another wild day at a Scott tournament that has been full of twists, turns and surprises.
And we'll leave the B.C. skip to sum up what today should be like.
"It's crunch time," Scott said.
NOTE: The Manitoba Curling Tour announced yesterday that its 15th championships will be held in Swan River, Man., Jan. 6-8, 2006.