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Fenson, Potter earn playoff spots at USA Curling Nationals

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Pete Fenson's team has clinched the first men's playoff berth after surviving an extra end against Todd Birr's rink Wednesday morning at the 2011 USA Curling National Championships at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Later in the day, former Bemidjian Cassie Potter claimed the fourth and final playoff berth in the women's division.

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Bemidji's Fenson defeated Birr 9-8 and Potter downed Allison Pottinger 7-4.

In women's action Tuesday night, Patti Lank (Lewiston, N.Y.), Pottinger (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Erika Brown (Oakville, Ontario) all posted wins and grabbed three of the four available playoff spots.

In the first end of action between the undefeated Fenson rink and Birr's team, the first end was critical once again. With the last-rock advantage, Birr was just an inch off of converting a runback for three or four points in the first end but had to settle for a single.

Fenson countered with a takeout for three in the second end and forced Birr to draw the eight-foot against three for another single in the fourth, but Birr was heavy and floated behind the tee line to give Fenson two more. Birr and teammates Greg Romaniuk (Snohomish, Wash.), Doug Pottinger (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Tom O'Connor (Golden Valley, Minn.) stole two points in the fifth end to cut the lead to 5-4. Fenson countered with a deuce and forced Birr to draw for one in the seventh to continue to control the game. In the 10th, Fenson jammed his final takeout and gave Birr the steal of one to force an extra end. Fenson and teammates Shawn Rojeski (Chisholm, Minn.), Joe Polo (Duluth, Minn.) and Ryan Brunt (Portage, Wis.) held on for the 9-8 win when Fenson converted a takeout of the Birr stone in the four-foot to remain undefeated and clinch a playoff spot.

Tyler George's team improved to 6-1 but they also had to survive an extra end to defeat Geoff Goodland's team. With the win, George (Duluth, Minn.) and teammates Chris Plys (Duluth, Minn.), Rich Ruohonen (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) and Phill Drobnick (Duluth, Minn.) position themselves to clinch a playoff spot with a win later Wednesday.

"It was a good game overall with lots of close shots that could have gone either way," said Ruohonen, who won the national title in 2008. "We're 6-1 now and feeling pretty good about that. McCormick's right on our heels, though. We'd like to win both of our games and be in the 1-2 game."

With the loss, Goodland's team falls to 1-6. They competed in - and won - the Senior Nationals in the Boston area, went home for three days and then traveled to Fargo for Nationals. The long month has caught up with them, Goodland said. "It was only a few days in between the Seniors and coming here so that has factored in," said Goodland, 55, the 2002 national champion. "We've been trying hard and keeping the games close. It was just a treat to get back to the Nationals again."

Heath McCormick's team is right in the thick of the playoff hunt after a 9-2 win over 1997 champion Craig Disher (Rolla, N.D.). McCormick popped Disher for five points in the second end and then stole the next two before Disher conceded the loss.

Craig Brown's team kept their playoff hopes alive as well as Brown (Madison, Wis.) and teammates John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.), Greg Johnson (Appleton, Wis.) and Jeremiah Dotlich (Hermantown, Minn.) improved to 3-4 with a critical 9-4 win over Zach Jacobson's team. The loss drops Jacobson to 3-4 as well. Matt Hamilton's team also is 3-4 after Jason Larway's Seattle rink stole the 10th end for a 7-5 victory.

The men return to the ice at 4 p.m. today for the eighth game of the round robin. The women's playoffs begin Thursday night while the men's playoffs kick off Friday at noon.

Potter (Birchwood Village, Minn.) and teammates Jamie Haskell (White Bear Lake, Minn.), Maureen Stolt (Plymouth, Minn.) and Stephanie Sambor (Williston, N.D.) controlled the first half of the match by scoring deuces when they had the last-rock advantage to take a 4-2 lead after five ends. 2010 Olympian Pottinger tied the game after six but Potter, who skipped the 2006 Olympic curling team, scored in the next three ends and ran Pottinger out of rocks in the 10th to punch a ticket to the playoffs. Team Potter faces Team Lank tonight while Brown and Pottinger square off.

Brown and teammates Nina Spatola (McFarland, Wis.), Ann Swisshelm (Chicago) and Laura Hallisey (Medfield, Mass.) got off to a fast start on Lank's team by stealing the first three ends. Lank was forced to a single in the fourth end and Brown started to pull away after scoring a deuce in the fifth. Three more in the seventh added to a steal of two in the eighth when Lank missed a double takeout and Brown was back on top of the women's standings. Both teams are 7-1 followed by Pottinger and Potter at 6-2.

"I'm just really excited. I think we're in a good up-slope right now," said Spatola, 22, a nursing student from McFarland, Wis. "The earlier loss helped us to re-focus. We just gotta keep it going. There's a lot of extra pressure being the defending champions, but there are a lot of teams here who probably feel that same pressure having won it before."

Men's division

Seventh draw

Fenson over Birr 9-8 (11), George over Goodland 8-7 (11), Larway over Hamilton 7-5, Brown over Jacobson 9-4, McCormick over Disher 9-2.

Standings

Fenson 7-0, George 6-1, McCormick 5-2, Birr 4-3, Brown, Hamilton and Jacobson 3-4, Larway 2-5, Disher and Goodland 1-6.

Women's division

Eighth draw

Potter over Pottinger 7-4, Reiser over Karst 10-6, Haag over O'Leary 7-4, Sormunen over Haase 7-5, Brown over Lank 10-3.

Standings

Brown and Lank 7-1, Potter and Pottinger 6-2, Reiser 4-4, Sormunen and Haag 3-5, O'Leary 2-6, Haase and Karst 1-7.

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Pioneer staff reports
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