Team B.C.

Team B.C.

Morris locks up Brier playoff spot

Team Morris has a playoff spot at the Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championships in Kamloops.

Team Morris has a playoff spot at the Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championships in Kamloops.

Whether the Vernon/Kelowna squad plays in the one versus two game, or the three versus four matchup, was still to be determined at The Morning Star’s press deadline Thursday.

The quartet of Jim Cotter and Rick Sawatsky, from Vernon, and Tyrel Griffith and skip John Morris had a chance to gain a spot in the one versus two game Thursday morning, but fell 7-6 in an extra end to Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton.

The result left both rinks at 8-2 while Kevin Koe of Alberta was 8-1 with two draws left Thursday and one more this morning at the Interior Savings Centre.

Team Morris finished round-robin play against Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock Thursday night.

Stoughton’s win snapped a six-game Morris winning streak.

“It’s just one of those games where we weren’t sharp enough,” Morris told Kamloops This Week after the Stoughton loss. “We were really close, but we weren’t sharp enough. Jimmy made a couple clutch shots to keep us in it, but we’ve got to be a little sharper and get, maybe, another break or two.”

Manitoba and B.C. traded deuces in the first two ends, before alternating singles in the next five. The eighth end was the turning point, however, with Stoughton managing another deuce. After blanking nine, B.C. scored a single in 10 to send the game to an extra end.

“The Stoughton team played awesome,” Morris said. “For us to beat those guys, we’re going to have to pick ‘er up a notch.”

As a rink, the Manitoba champs curled at 91 per cent, including 92 per cent by Stoughton. That compares to 88 per cent for the Morris foursome, sparked by lead Sawatsky’s 94 per cent effort.

Sawatsky, Morris and Cotter led their positions through 14 draws, statistically, while Griffith was second among the seconds.

After the Thursday morning game, the B.C. champs had a battle to get into the one versus two page playoff game, where the winner advances to Sunday’s 4:30 p.m. final.

The page playoffs are slated to start tonight at 6:30 p.m. if no tiebreakers are required.

To get into the one versus two game, Morris had to beat Laycock and hope for a loss from either Stoughton or Kevin Koe.

Morris’ rink was perfect Wednesday, scoring a 5-3 win over 2006 Olympic gold medalist Brad Gushue of Newfoundland, then scoring five in the third end en route to an 8-3, eight-end decision over Ontario’s Greg Balsdon.

“We were getting some rocks in play in that third end,” Cotter told The Morning Star after the victory. “They were still making some good shots on us, and we couldn’t seem to get in a good spot. On the last rock, we decided to go for it.

“It was a tough shot but the rock was well-swept (by Sawatsky and Griffith), and it was a great line call by Johnny to score five.”

Prior to the setback against Stoughton, Cotter said the rink has been focusing on the things in their control. He had nothing but praise for the ice conditions (Dave Merklinger of the Vernon Curling Club has been helping oversee the ice at the Interior Savings Centre) and for the fans in his hometown of Kamloops.

“The ice has been fantastic,” said Cotter. “Merk and his team have done a fabulous job. The crowds and everyone here in Kamloops have been fabulous, cheering us on.”

Morris, Stoughton and Kevin Koe had all clinched page playoff spots by Thursday afternoon.

Laycock was in the best position to grab the fourth and final spot, with Gushue, Balson, Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec and New Brunswick’s James Gratton clinging to slim chances.

Meanwhile, Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet and Armstrong’s Ina Forrest, the front end for Team Canada, begin defence of their Paralympic wheelchair curling gold medal Saturday at the Ice Cube Curling Centre in Sochi, Russia.

The North Okanagan women, backed by skip Jim Armstrong of Cambridge, Ont. and third Dennis Thiessen of Sanford, Man., open play at the Paralympics against Great Britain (game starts at 9:30 p.m. Friday Pacific time).

Canada will also play the host country at 3:30 a.m. Pacific Saturday. The event is a 10-country round-robin draw with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs.

Team Canada has prevailed every time wheelchair curling has been contested at the Paralympics, beginning with Chris Daw’s 2006 triumph in Torino, Italy, and followed by Armstrong claiming gold four years later in Vancouver.

Gaudet was a member of both of those teams, and is pursuing an unprecedented third Paralympics gold medal.

The Canadian lineup has had success previously in Sochi, having won the World Wheelchair Championship a year ago at the Ice Cube. It was the test event for the 2014 Paralympics.