U.S. wheelchair curling playoff hopes hanging by a thread after overtime loss

By Terry Kolesar | March 13, 2014, 5:45 a.m. (ET)
Jimmy Joseph
Jimmy Joseph and Penny Greely during the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team's loss to Great Britain. 

SOCHI, Russia — It ain't over til it's over and Patrick McDonald and the U.S. team are holding on to hope that things go their way tonight to put Team USA into a tiebreaker game at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

After an 8-6 overtime loss this morning to Great Britain's Aileen Neilson rink at the Ice Cube Curling Center, McDonald (Madison, Wis.) and teammates Jimmy Joseph (New Hartford, N.Y.), Penny Greely (Green Bay, Wis.), David Palmer (Mashpee, Mass.), and Meghan Lino (East Falmouth, Mass.) slipped to 4-5 in the standings to conclude the round robin.

However, losses tonight by China (4-4) and Slovakia (4-4) would set up a three-way tie for the final semifinal berth, which would mean tiebreaker games would be played Friday. China plays Great Britain (5-3) while Slovakia faces Russia (7-1).

"We let that game get away. We're not the only team to do that. It happens," said Joseph, who is playing in his third Paralympic Winter Games. "We just pray that those two teams lose and we go for the tiebreaker. I'm not sad, life goes on. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We want a medal."

The win places Great Britain in Saturday's semifinals as they improved to five wins.

"To come out with a win from that is fantastic," Neilson said. "We know it is never over until the last stone is thrown and again we've proved that with our team dynamics we stuck together. No matter what the score line was, no matter if it was a good shot or a bad shot, we stuck together to the bitter end and managed to come out with a win. We're really delighted with a great performance from the team."

The U.S. had control of the first six ends of the game but a series of missed shots in the seventh spelled disaster for the Americans. "The seventh end was cursed. Penny flew by and then I flew by. Maybe I got a little amped up. I didn't do what I normally do, which is move over to the right more and then shoot straight right at it. I was thinking of doing that, and I didn't do it," Joseph said about his key takeout miss in that end.

The U.S. capitalized on a couple of misses, including a very narrow miss on a double takeout with Neilson's final stone, to draw in for two points to start the game.

In the second end, the U.S. placed Joseph's second vice skip stone in back corner of the rings near a Great Britain (GBR) stone hanging off the back of the house. Team GBR tried to freeze down to it but left it short of the house. McDonald then drew behind the corner guard to the side of the four-foot. Neilson used a soft-weight takeout to go after the American stone but her stone rubbed on the guard and spun into the rings, leaving it wide open for McDonald to chip out. Neilson was then forced to make a draw to score a single but her delivery was heavy and the U.S. stole a point.

Great Britain was forced into making a takeout for a single point in the third end to get on the scoreboard. The U.S. got a deuce set up in the fourth end as McDonald hid his first skip stone behind a corner guard that Neilson could not remove. The U.S. pulled ahead 5-1 as McDonald drew in for the two points. Solid defense by the Americans in the fifth end held Great Britain once again to a single point.

The U.S. got a stone covered in the top of the four-foot early in the sixth end that led to another point on the scoreboard for the Americans as they extended the lead to 6-2. After that, things unraveled quickly for Team USA as the seventh end got underway.

Three misses in a row by the Americans allowed GBR to pile in three stones behind a corner guard in the side of the house as the end developed. GBR's vice skip Jim Gault placed a second guard that further protected their bounty of granite. McDonald's first takeout attempt sailed through the house and GBR placed a fourth counter in behind the opposite corner guard. The U.S. then missed its final hit and roll attempt and Great Britain had a draw for five points to take a 7-6 lead.

"That's a good question. I'm still trying to figure that out," McDonald said about the series of misses by the American team in the seventh end. "We were dead on the broom all through the game. Out there I was kind of joking around 'Tower, this is Maverick requesting a flyby.' (A "Top Gun" reference.) We had to do a flyby a couple of times to make sure we got it right, I guess."

"My first shot in the seventh end, it was the rock's fault," McDonald said jokingly. "It was jumping out of my stick before I could put a turn on it. I was like 'Whoa, wait, come back,' and it didn't listen."

In the eighth end, GBR second Gregor Ewan placed a perfect come-around draw into the top four-foot for shot stone behind the guard. The U.S. started peeling guards with GBR replacing them over the next few stones.  McDonald had a narrow opening through the port for the takeout on the GBR shot stone but his stone did not curl and just moved a guard out of play. Neilson used the final GBR stone to place another guard, leaving McDonald with a heroic runback to score one point and force an extra end.

In the extra end, both teams had solid draw weight early on as the sides drew easily around the corner guards to place and takeout stones. When GBR's guard attempt finally over-curled, Joseph was able to remove the shot stone and leave three American rocks in the rings. Great Britain again drew perfectly around the guards to place a stone in the top of the four-foot behind the corner guard. That was no trouble for Joseph, who again narrowly skimmed past the guard and removed the GBR stone. Gault countered with a hit and roll that landed perfectly behind the guards. McDonald drew behind the guard and placed his stone in the top of the four-foot but GBR had scoring position by an inch at most. USA's final draw was heavy and Neilson did not have to throw her final stone with the winning point in hand.

"My destiny has already been planned out. I'm going to go get my nails done, freshen up a little bit, and come back and watch some curling and see what happens," McDonald said about his afternoon plans and the possibility of playing in a tiebreaker game should Great Britain and Russia help out the Americans with wins tonight over China and Slovakia.

Canada (7-1), Russia (7-1) and Great Britain (5-3) have locked down the first three semifinal berths. If needed, tiebreaker games to determine the playoff field will be played on Friday (times to be determined with 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. set aside as possibilities).

The semifinals are set to begin at 9:30 a.m. MSK on Saturday followed by the gold- and bronze-medal games at 3:30 p.m.

Live scores and standings can be found at http://sochi2014.curlingevents.com/paralympics

USA line score

Great Britain 001 010 501 - 8
*USA 210 201 010 - 7

*last stone in first end