Brad Gushue throws a stone during the WestJet Players' Championship quarterfinals in Toronto. (Anil Mungal)

Gushue through to Players’ Championship semifinals

April 15, 2017, 5:54 PM

TORONTO — Recently crowned world champ Brad Gushue isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The St. John’s, N.L., native continues his title defence at the WestJet Players’ Championship making through to the semifinals after cruising to a 6-1 victory over Calgary’s Kevin Koe in Saturday’s quarters.

Koe came out on top in their round-robin meeting Friday although Team Gushue lead Geoff Walker left that game during the third end due to a rib injury.

Walker was back in the lineup and threw a perfect 100 percent with the team finishing at 95 overall.

“Geoff still wasn’t able to sweep at 100 percent, but having him throw rocks, judge weight and just being out there it just makes the team flow much more naturally,” Gushue said. “It was much more comfortable today than it was yesterday. I thought our team played great, to be honest.

“I thought we were really sharp and we controlled the whole game. It really felt like it did last week, actually a continuation, which I’m surprised at how fatigued we feel. We mustered up every bit of energy. I didn’t notice it amongst the team, any of the fatigue, so having one game today I think certainly helped.”

Gushue opened with the hammer and capitalized in the second end when Koe rubbed just enough of a guard with his first skip stone and open up the door to split the rings. After Koe hit and rolled, Gushue bumped it out to score a deuce.

Koe struggled with his game-changing hits to give up back-to-back steals. The 2016 world champ Koe attempted a tricky double in the third with his shooter hitting off one, but it rolled under the other untouched. Koe had an opportunity to make another difficult double for a deuce in four, but jammed the first to concede another one.

“Against us Kevin seems to make a lot of them. We got two misses out him there in the third and fourth ends,” Gushue said. “If he makes one of those then it’s a different game, but once we got up 4-0 then it’s kind of a little bit of cruise control. You feel like you can even give away a point or two and still be in good shape.

“They weren’t easy shots by any means, especially that one in three was tough. I wouldn’t have even tried it but he throws it a lot harder than I do, so he’s got a higher probability of making it. The one in four we certainly expected him to make that once I knocked our own rock out though, but it was a good game. I’m very happy with it.”

Koe’s woes continued into the fifth. Facing two staggered, Koe popped them both loose but his shooter rolled into the rings and didn’t have enough gas to go out as it stayed for a single. Gushue, who threw 95 percent, tacked on another two in the sixth and out came the handshakes.

“Any time you’re playing on Sunday is good but now there’s a semifinal so we’ve still got another game to go through,” Gushue said. “It’s going to be a tough road for us to win. There are a lot of good teams left. Hopefully we can come out tomorrow and have a similar game as we had today and I like our chances.”

Gushue topped Koe just over a month ago in the Brier final to win his first career Canadian men’s curling championship and then went on to capture gold at the worlds with a perfect 13-0 record in Edmonton.

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Gushue will go up against Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, who won his fifth consecutive game of the tournament eliminating cross-city rival Reid Carruthers 4-2.

Carruthers needed to win tiebreaker games over Steve Laycock on Friday night and John Morris on Saturday morning in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Scotland’s Kyle Smith made a double takeout with his last to scoring the winning single and eliminate Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 7-6.

“Jacobs played a good one with his first and made the draw pretty tough,” Team Smith third Thomas Muirhead said. “Kyle’s been playing well all week, he’s been hitting really well too and we knew the bit of ice where Kyle was calling the double, so he threw it and made it.”

It is Team Smith’s first time playing in the Players’ Championship, which has been a good event for Thomas’s sister Eve Muirhead, who has won the women’s title three times in the past four years at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

“It’s a competition we’ve always watched on the telly as young kids and always aspired to be playing in,” Thomas Muirhead said. “It’s our first Players’ and just kind of went in, put in all of the training we could possibly put in, just giving it our all and it’s going okay so far.”

Muirhead has some catching up to do if he hopes to match his sister’s title total although he is also rooting for her in the women’s quarterfinals against Jennifer Jones.

“Hopefully Eve can pull it out of the bag tonight,” he said. “But we better match her record somehow.”

Smith plays Sweden’s Niklas Edin, who edged Peter de Cruz of Switzerland 4-3.

Watch the women’s quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 360 with Rachel Homan vs. Val Sweeting, Tracy Fleury vs. Anna Hasselborg, Silvana Tirinzoni vs. Casey Scheidegger and the aforementioned Muirhead vs. Jones match.

The semifinals are set for Sunday at 11 a.m. ET (Sportsnet).

NOTES: The WestJet Players’ Championship is the fourth and final major of the season. It’s also the penultimate event of the 2016-17 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season with the winners earning berths to the year-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. … The Rogers Grand Slam Cup, awarded to the overall season champions, will also be awarded following the conclusion of the WestJet Players’ Championship.