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Howard nabs final Tour Challenge playoff spot

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — It took an extra game but Team Glenn Howard is through to the playoffs at the Tour Challenge.

The club from Penetanguishene, Ont., outlasted Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone 6-4 during Saturday morning’s lone tiebreaker match on the Tier 1 side at Tournament Centre to qualify.

After the teams traded twos in the second and third ends, Dunstone counted another deuce in the fourth to lead 4-2 at the break. Howard, who has won 14 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles as a skip, took over from there with a single in five followed by steals of two in six and one in seven to build the two-point difference.

Both teams finished pool play with 2-2 records alongside Team Kevin Koe, however, the Calgary crew held a superior pre-game, draw-to-the-button total to advance.

Howard now plays undefeated Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. ET (Watch on Sportsnet East, West, Pacific & Sportsnet 360). The 11-time Pinty’s GSOC title winner Gushue (4-0) also happens to be the defending champion running the table with a perfect record at the event a year ago.

There will be a battle of gold medallists with 2014 Winter Games champ Jacobs taking on reigning Olympic champ Team John Shuster of the United States in the quarterfinals (both finished at 3-1). Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher (3-1) meets Team Rich Ruohonen (3-1) of the U.S., and Koe clashes with Switzerland’s Team Peter de Cruz (3-1) in the other men’s quarterfinal matches.

Tour Challenge: Scores | Playoffs | Game Schedule | Broadcast Schedule

There were no tiebreakers on the women’s side with the top eight straight through. Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan (4-0) faces Edmonton’s Team Laura Walker (2-2), Team Tracy Fleury (4-0) of East St. Paul, Man., plays Winnipeg’s Team Darcy Robertson (2-2), Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones (3-1) collides with Team Nina Roth (3-1) of the U.S., and Team Kerri Einarson (3-1) of Gimli, Man., goes up against Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni (2-2). The women’s quarterfinals go down at Noon ET; watch on Sportsnet Ontario & Sportsnet ONE.

The semifinals are set for Saturday evening (8 p.m. ET; Sportsnet 360) with the finals scheduled for Sunday (Noon ET and 4 p.m. ET; Sportsnet).

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $20,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask.