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Stoughton faces Grassie in provincial final

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NEEPAWA -- Jeff Stoughton did it again here Sunday morning. And so too did Mike McEwen.

For the 11th time since 1991, Stoughton will play in the final of the Manitoba men’s curling championship here Sunday afternoon following a 5-3 win over rival Mike McEwen in the semifinal Sunday morning.

Stoughton now advances to face Sean Grassie in the provincial final (1:30 p.m., Sportsnet). Stoughton is 9-1 in provincial finals over the years, but Grassie did just beat him Saturday night in the 1 vs 1 game.

It was the fourth straight year of Sunday heartbreak for McEwen after losing the final in each of the last three years.

McEwen struggled through the first five ends of the game and gift-wrapped Stoughton a 4-1 lead heading into the fifth end break when he flashed a game-tying open hit for a deuce to give Stoughton a back-breaking steal instead.

Stoughton was asked if he felt bad about breaking McEwen’s heart on Sunday for the third time in four years. "It would have broken my heart if we didn’t come out and play better today," said Stoughton, whose team struggled in the loss to Grassie. "It was nice to see a few more shots made today and hopefully this afternoon we can make a few more and give Sean a really good game."

The McEwen foursome tried to make a game of it in the second half but both skips said afterward that a breakdown in ice conditions made it difficult to generate much in the way of offence. Whatever glimmer of hope McEwen still had went up in smoke in the 10th end when his first rock came up short of the house, precluding any possibility of a game-tying deuce and prompting the two teams to shake hands.

McEwen took full responsibility for the loss. "I did that all by myself the first five ends," said McEwen.

McEwen said his team was fully healthy and he felt mentally strong heading into a game against an opponent that has beaten on Sunday twice before in the last three years.

"I felt great. I don’t know. I can’t really explain it. We knew we had to play good today regardless. You can play good and still lose to those guys but I felt great going into the game. I can’t explain it," said McEwen, who has still yet to win a provincial title despite years of dominance on the cash spiel circuit.

The McEwen collapse was particularly striking after a Saturday that saw his team dominate in winning three straight games to stay alive.

"I don’t know what (happened)," McEwen said. "How do you go from making everything to you can’t even hit an open rock?"

Stoughton’s team has been battling the flu this weekend, but the skip said the team members are feeling better today. Stoughton was asked if illness was to blame for the poor play of second Reid Carruthers during the semifinal.

"Not that I know of. He’s not telling us he’s sick. He’s just struggling out there a little bit right now. But we’ll pick him up and get him to play a great game this afternoon."

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