Heading the pack at 3-0 defending champion Jennifer Jones

Expert handicappers will be nodding knowingly today when the top choices in the Scotties Tournament Of Hearts resume their respective chases for the national women ‘s curling title at the Essar Centre. Heading the pack at 3-and-0 when action ceased Sunday, defending champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg and Ontario champion Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay were established as the odds-on favourites at the start the day previous. Jones, who’s looking for her third straight Canadian title, hit for a four-ender en route to a 5-4 win over New Brunswick’s Andrea Kelly on Sunday morning, then dispensed with Amber Holland of Saskatchewan 7-3 in the afternoon. McCarville pulled even Sunday night with a 12-6 victory over Quebec’s Eve Belisle of Montreal in a wild battle completely devoid of defence. Earlier, the home-province team registered a 10th-end deuce to subdue the hot young Alberta unit skipped by Valerie Sweeting of Edmonton by a narrow 7-6 score. “That’s the craziest curling game I’ve ever played in my whole entire life, absolutely crazy,” said McCarville in the wake of her Sunday evening win. “I mean, I had a four-point lead and I was not happy. I left her (Belisle) with a double for five and she was close to making it. I was worried. The ice was changing a little bit. It was tricky. I wasn’t sure what was going on out there. I wasn’t confident of where I putting the broom. I just wanted to get off the ice and come out with a win.” The Lakehead skip added she was happy with her three wins but . . . “I’m not satisfied yet,” she said. Belisle was asked whatever became of defence? “I think we forgot what it was,” she said. “I don’t know, we both played really aggressive and it got pretty wild. “Losing two today is not very good but now we have to come out strong.” McCarville and Sweeting waged a titanic battle of last rocks in the afternoon with the turning point arriving in the seventh end with Alberta angling to break up a tie match and steal a deuce with a pair jammed in the four-foot. With last rock, McCarville tossed an in-turn draw to a corner of the button from outside ice and watched the stone turn in to score at exactly the right instant. Sweeting then scored back-to-back singles to take the lead in the ninth but she couldn’t avoid giving up the deciding deuce when McCarville issued her last-rock open hit. “The seventh was the turning point, we didn’t want to give up that steal,” said McCarville. “I needed about one-quarter or more of the button and it warped in there perfectly. “I had my draw weight that game and I felt really good so I just threw it and let the sweepers guide it in there and the line was perfect.” The 22-year-old Alberta skip agreed the seventh end, had it gone the other way, probably would have changed the result. “That was a clutch draw for her,” said Sweeting. “It would have been nice to steal there. The good thing was they only counted one and you always hope the limit the opposition to that when they have last rock. “They were making a lot of greats shots, especially in that last end, and there wasn’t much we could do about it. But we played well and that’s and good sign for us.” McCarville admitted she was impressed with the youthful Albertans. “Definitely, they are a great team,” she said. “Someone to watch for in the playoffs, possibly.” Jones termed her afternoon win over Holland “our best game to date”. Jones was beaten in the first round of the Olympic Trials at Edmonton by Holland. “It’s great to get off to a good start but we’ve done this a lot of ways. I think we did this last year and then had to battle through a tiebreaker so you never can be certain after the first few games.” Holland admitted an 0-2 start for her team wasn’t in the original game plan. “But what are you going to do, you can’t go back,” she said. “We just have to ramp it up and get rolling.” Her team did just that, defeating Shelley Nichols of Newfoundland/Labrador 8-5 on the late shift for Saskatchewan’s first win. Alberta remained at 2-and-1 alongside British Columbia and Manitoba. P.E.I.’s Kathy O’Rourke climbed to 3-and-1 with a late 10-7 win over the Territories (1-3). Winner of two straight on Saturday, the Islanders were pummelled 13-2 by Alberta on Sunday morning. In another late game, New Brunswick’s Kelly won her first, 10-6 over winless Nancy McConnery of Nova Scotia B.C. skip Kelly Scott covered part of the button with a last-rock cold draw to defeat Belisle 6-4 Sunday afternoon while Manitoba’s Jill Thurston ran away from Nichols 11-6 with a killer four-count in the seventh end the major blow. “I thought I needed just a touch extra on that last draw and it worked out,” said Scott whose final stone ground to a halt in winning territory. Thurston admitted the playing surface began to fudge in the late ends. “When you have ice like that it’s definitely and advantage to get a lead as soon as possible.” Manitoba led by a point when Thurston executed a precise takeout for the four-ender. Said Nichols: “My draw weight just wasn’t there. I’d make one, miss one, make one, miss one. You aren’t helping anybody when you’re going like that.” Thurston, who lost to Jones in her opening assignment, admitted her team was applying far more pressure Sunday. “That’s the game,” she said. “You apply the pressure and that’s how you steal points. “We have to go out and play our game and stay within ourselves just like we did in the provincials. It’s still just curling. You do the things you do that make you successful, stay tight and weather the storms when they come.” Manitoba defeated the Bluenosers 7-3 and Scott hung on for a 7-6 win over the Territories in other Sunday morning arguments. Draw Six action on Monday at 10:30 a.m. ET will feature just two games — Saskatchewan against Ontario and Quebec against Newfoundland/Labrador.