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USA Junior Nationals Curling: Minnesota teams split, move into tie for first place

Minnesota teams each split their two matches Wednesday at the Junior National Championships at the Bemidji Curling Club and moved into a three-way tie for first place with one round-robin draw remaining.

The Trevor Andrews rink of Bemidji needed extra ends before defeating Matt Birklid 9-5 in its morning game. But Andrews' five-game win streak ended in the afternoon draw as Sean Beighton of Washington earned a 5-3 victory. That left both teams with a 6-2 record heading into today's final draw.

Hibbing's Aaron Wald rink, which includes Josh Bahr of Bemidji, also is 6-2 after defeating Stephen Dropkin of Massachusetts 8-7 in the morning and losing to Blake Morton of Wisconsin 7-5 in the afternoon.

In today's ninth draw, Wald and Beighton square off, while Andrews takes on Morton.

The morning draw featured tight matches, but both Minnesota teams were victorious.

Andrews stole one in the seventh to lead Birklid 2-1. Then the scoring broke wide open. Birklid, from Fairbanks, Alaska, scored two in the eighth, but Bemidji countered with three to go up 5-3 with only one end left. Alaska got the two it needed and forced extra ends.

With the hammer, the Bemidji foursome put three stones at the top of the 12-foot, including shot rock. Birklid's first attempt to clear clipped a guard, then Andrews froze a fourth up top. Birklid's only option was to draw around, but he came up short.

Massachusetts' Dropkin rink, which climbed into a second-place tie with Tuesday's win over Washington, scored two in the ninth to tie Wald 7-7. They couldn't steal the game-winner, however, and Wald won 8-7.

The 4 p.m. draw proved just as tough, with both Minnesota rinks losing close matches.

Wald, facing Morton, fell behind 6-2 after six ends, then scored one and stole two. The Wisconsin team came back with one in the ninth, winning 7-5.

Bemidji's Josh Bahr, playing third on the Wald rink, said the team will put the match behind it quickly.

"We just had some tough breaks, kept it close," Bahr said. "We're right where we want to be, though. We win tomorrow and we get a top seed for sure."

The Andrews rink, hampered by five scoreless ends in a row, lost 5-3 to Beighton. The decisive point of the match came after the fifth-end break.

Tied 2-2, Beighton scored one in the sixth and stole one in the seventh and eighth. Down 5-2, Andrews only took one in the ninth and Washington held on for the win.

"I think we had some easier shots tonight," said Beighton. "It was a must-win situation for us, we win tomorrow and we finish top-two and assured of a medal." This is Beighton's last chance as a junior.

Bemidji's Aaron Tasa looked forward to Thursday's match as well. "We can't dwell on the loss," he said. "We have to focus on tomorrow, win and we get that one or two seed and then we medal no matter what, which will be pretty cool, especially since it's our first year."

Defending champion Alex Carlson of Wayzata continues to dominate the women's division. Carlson is unbeaten after eight matches and has clinched the top spot for the playoffs.