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Last chance for top seeds Middaugh and Englot

It’s already backs-to-the-wall time at the Road to the Roar pre-Trials, presented by Monsanto.

After only three draws on the women’s side, two of the top four teams have already dropped to the ‘C’ event qualifier — and have no margin of error remaining in their dream to represent Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

No. 2-ranked Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., dropped an 8-5 decision to No. 3-seeded Marie-France Larouche of St-Romuald, Que., on Wednesday morning, while Regina’s Michelle Englot, the No. 4 seed, was shaded 6-5 by Edmonton’s Cathy King, during first-round meetings in the ‘B’ draw.

“Inconsistency on my part,” sighed Middaugh, a four-time skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. “Get momentum, and then give it right back. Half-shots just don’t cut it.

“There was definitely no separation at this tournament from the first to the 12th seed. It was based on the three-year (Canadian Team Ranking System) ranking, and didn’t really mean anything,” added Middaugh.

Englot and Middaugh are now slated to play a late-finishing ‘C1’ quarterfinal against each other on Wednesday night in this pre-Trials tournament, which has a triple-knockout format.  For both teams, a ticket to the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton is still just three wins away, but one more loss and it’s all over.

“Backs to the wall now,” said Englot, who’s skipped six Saskatchewan entries at the Scotties. “We just need to pick it up a notch.  We’re just a little bit off, but that’s all it takes at this level.  We knew coming in that all 12 teams would be really tough, and it has proven to be that way. That’s how even women’s curling is, and on any given day, anybody can beat anybody. You need to come out strong for every game. Unfortunately, we haven’t brought our ‘A’ game yet.”

Middaugh, down 6-5 in the 10th end with the hammer, attempted a hit-and-roll to count one to force an extra end, but Larouche ended up stealing two for a three-point win.

“I threw the weight I wanted, but it just didn’t finish enough,” said Middaugh. “We need a little more execution and a bit more consistency. When we do get that odd miss from the opposition, it’s just capitalizing, and that’s not what we did. We certainly didn’t do it that game.”

Larouche had counted two in the sixth to go up 4-3, and made a crucial steal of one in the seventh to go up 5-3.

“(Tuesday), the team played well, but I was up and down (during an ‘A’-event loss to Rachel Homan of Ottawa). Today, we played a great game as a team,” said Larouche.

In Wednesday morning’s other ‘B’-event first-round clashes, No. 10-ranked Amber Holland of Kronau, Sask., defeated No. 11 seed Eve Belisle of Montreal 8-5, while Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., ranked No. 9, edged Calgary’s Heather Rankin, the No. 5 seed, 6-5.

Rankin and Belisle, like Middaugh and Englot, have one more life to live in the ‘C’ event. Holland and McCarville, like King and Larouche, move on to the ‘B’ quarterfinals.

“I think we’re catching on to the ice . . . but it’s hard when you only play one game a day. I’m not going to lie. It’s tough to get a feel for things,” said Holland, whose next action is Thursday morning. “I feel like we’ve been here for five days and played two games — which I think maybe we have.”

McCarville never trailed in her game against Rankin, and drew to the button in the 10th end for the winning tally.

“I think we picked up on the ice a little bit better today. I struggled a little bit with that, and I felt like we came out with a little more confidence,” said McCarville. “You’re playing a tough team every single time here. You want to get that win . . . and stay out of ‘C.’ ”

Up for Wednesday’s 12:30 p.m. PT draw are four ‘B’-event, round-of-16 clashes: No. 8 Ted Appelman of Edmonton vs. No. 12 Jason Gunnlaugson of Beausejour, Man.; No. 6 Joel Jordison of Moose Jaw, Sask., vs. No. 7 Jean-Michel Menard of St-Romuald, Que.; No. 9 Bob Ursel of Kelowna, B.C., vs. No. 5 Kerry Burtnyk of Winnipeg; and No. 11 Greg McAulay of Richmond, B.C., vs. No. 2 Wayne Middaugh of Toronto.