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Jacobs outduels Gushue to successfully defend Tour Challenge title

PICTOU COUNTY, N.S. — The latest episode of the “Battle of the Brads” exceeded expectations with a thrilling showdown in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 men’s final.

In the end though it was Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who emerged victorious 6-4 over Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., to successfully defend the championship.

Jacobs’s fifth GSOC title netted his squad $30,000, 12 Pinty’s Cup points and a berth into the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Things are a little different this time around as Jacobs, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden are now joined by third Marc Kennedy. After parting ways with Ryan Fry over the off-season, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jacobs added the 2010 Winter Games champion Kennedy to his roster.

“It feels great,” Jacobs said. “I’d say we battled hard all week. We were a very resilient group. I’m really proud of Ryan, E.J. and Marc for hanging in there and just never giving up and always having faith and belief that we would somehow get the job done. They stuck behind me all week and that’s huge as a skip. They never lost faith in me even when I missed a few shots or whatever. I’m just really proud of the guys.

“It’s super cool to defend a Grand Slam title. We feel really grateful to be able to play this sport at this level and be out here entertaining people and playing on TV. We just love it. Hopefully, there’s lots more to come from our team. We’re just having a lot of fun, we enjoy one another’s company and we’re excited to step onto the ice every game.”

Kennedy, from St. Albert, Alta., has now won 13 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championships in his illustrious career.

“A great game to cap it off,” said Kennedy, who took a break from the sport last season. “It wasn’t the prettiest game but we grinded it out and stuck together as a group all week actually. This one is special. It’s been a while since I’ve won one with taking last year off. This feels great.”

It was the lone loss of the week for Gushue, who was competing in his second straight GSOC final after falling to Team Matt Dunstone exactly two weeks ago at the Masters in North Bay, Ont. The 11-time GSOC title winner Gushue opened with the hammer and converted to score a deuce out of the gate.

It looked like Jacobs was going to tie it up in the second with a crazy angle-raise double but could only count a single point as his shooter spun just a little too far. The point that got away came back in the third, however, as Gushue came up tight on his last to concede a steal that knotted the game 2-2.

“It was back and forth,” Kennedy said. “I thought Brad Gushue made some great draws but Brad Jacobs played fantastic today. Every angle raise he threw was close, every runback he threw was close. If anything it was me messing up the line calls, so we were pretty lucky to have him today. I’m proud of the guys and proud of the team for never giving up.”

A force in four gave Gushue the lead back and a steal in six re-established the two-point gap just when Jacobs was threatening to score big. However, Jacobs once again saw his fortunes return with a raise takeout in seven to score three and grab the lead for the first time.

“The sport on the men’s side is so competitive, there’s so much parity,” Jacobs said. “Any time you have an opportunity, the fact of the matter is you just have to go for it and you have to execute. If you do, you win and if you don’t, you lose. That’s the mentality that’s we’ve had. Hey, you know what? Sometimes we know it’s going to work in our favour and sometimes it’s not but hopefully, we can get our fair share.”

Things got hectic down to the wire with a messy house and both teams running low on time. Jacobs fired his last with just 20 seconds remaining and made a precision hit through a tiny hole. Gushue, who held the hammer coming home, had no timeouts remaining and only nine seconds on the clock as he threw a stick of dynamite into the pile but when the dust cleared it was Jacobs lying shot rock.

“I didn’t even realize that Gushue had no timeouts left,” Jacobs said. “A little bit more pressure on them with the clock ticking down and they were rushing a bit. We felt it too.

“It was a pretty complicated game and hey, that’s five-rock rule, there are rocks everywhere, you’re always thinking and there are always different options. You’ve got to be decisive and try to play as quick as you can but it doesn’t always work out that way. We were just lucky that we had a timeout left.”

Kennedy added: “Isn’t that the best for the fans? There’s a little bit of panic, a little urgency but big shots need to be made. He didn’t miss that last one by much and Brad Jacobs made a great shot through a hole that was very small. A great way to finish a terrific week. That’s what curling is always about right there.”

Elsewhere, Team Korey Dropkin of the United States edged Team Tanner Horgan of Winnipeg Beach, Man., 5-4 to win the Tier 2 title. Dropkin cashed in $10,000 plus a promotion to the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open.

“It feels so, so good,” Dropkin said. “It’s a long time coming. We’ve worked so hard for this and so much time and so much effort both physically and mentally. It’s just nice to pull one out. We’ve had a lot of finals lost, which is nice to see it pay off.”

Earlier, Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg won their third GSOC title defeating Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 8-5 in the Tier 1 women’s final. South Korea’s Team Min-Ji Kim sprinted to a 9-2 victory in only five ends over Team Jestyn Murphy of Mississauga, Ont., to win the Tier 2 title.

The next Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event is the BOOST National returning to Conception Bay South, N.L., from Dec. 10-15.