Defending champion Howard advances to playoffs at Players Championship

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GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. - Defending champion Glenn Howard continued his quest to earn a second consecutive Grey Power Players' Championship curling title by securing a playoff berth Thursday.
Howard, from Coldwater, Ont., and Edmonton's Randy Ferbey earned the first two men's quarter-final berths in the final Capital One Grand Slam of Curling event of the season.
On the women's side, Calgarians Shannon Kleibrink and Cheryl Bernard, Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones, Kelly Scott of Kelowna, B.C., and Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., all advanced to the final eight.
Howard earned a berth in the quarter-finals after defeating Wayne Middaugh of Midland, Ont., 7-3. Ferbey upset top-ranked Kevin Martin of Edmonton 6-5.
In the women's draw, Jones rallied to defeat Calgary's Crystal Webster 6-5, Scott slid past Michelle Englot of Regina 8-7 and McCarville squeezed past Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., 5-4.
Earlier, Kleibrink advanced to Friday's playoff round with a 10-4 win over Jones while Bernard powered past Middaugh 8-2.
Ferbey started strong against Martin as fourth Dave Nedohin made a long run back to score three points in the opening end.
"Obviously getting that three set them on their heels a little bit," said Ferbey.
After Martin rallied to tie the game at 5-5 heading into the final end, Nedohin made a draw to the button on the game's final shot for a one-point victory.
"Most games that we play some have been blowouts - but this is typical of us," added Ferbey. "Tied up coming home. Normally (Martin has) last rock but this time we had last rock. Dave made a couple good shots in the last end and that was the difference."
Howard picked up his third consecutive victory of the tournament after scoring four straight points in the middle ends to pull away.
Tied at 2-2 through three ends, Howard took a commanding lead in the fourth frame after executing a hit for three points. The 2007 World Champion then added a one-point steal in the fifth end to extend his advantage to 6-2.
"We didn't miss much against Wayne and he never got us into trouble," said Howard. "Safe to say that as a collective unit I think this was our best game so far."
Despite the losses, both Martin and Middaugh can still advance to the quarter-finals with one more win.
In women's action, Jones remained in the hunt for her third Players' Championship title in four seasons after emerging from a hard fought battle with Webster.
Trailing 3-1 after four ends, Jones grabbed her first lead of the game in the fifth after executing a takeout for three points.
In the final end, Jones sealed the win after Webster's triple takeout attempt only removed one stone, allowing the reigning Canadian champion to score two points without throwing her final stone.
"Cathy (Overton-Clapham) made a great come around and Crystal got a bad break on her run through," Jones said. "On my first one it was just where can we not put this rock in a bad spot. So it worked out well and it's always nice not to have to throw last rock."
The $170,000 Players' Championship is the final event on the Grand Slam of Curling calendar, and represents the final opportunity for teams to earn points towards a berth in the 2009 Olympic trials or pre-trials events. The top men's and women's teams walk away with $50,000 apiece.

Organizations: Capital One

Geographic location: Coldwater, GRANDE PRAIRIE, Edmonton Winnipeg Kelowna Thunder Bay Midland Calgary

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