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    Friday, February 13, 1998

    U.S. in semis with dramatic win

     KARUIZAWA, Japan (AP) -- The U.S. men's team is proving that curling can be dramatic, too.
     Team captain Tim Somerville's perfectly placed tap on the final shot of the game gave the Americans a 5-4 victory over Japan on Saturday (Friday night EST), sending the United States into the Olympic semifinals against powerful Canada.
     The United States, seemingly headed for a low finish in the inaugural Olympic curling tournament, has won three straight matches to reach the semifinals and is one victory away from a medal.
     The Americans had to beat Britain in their final round-robin match and Sweden in a tiebreaker late Friday just to reach the second tiebreaker against Japan only 12 hours later.
     Even if the United States (5-4) loses later Saturday to Canada, the Americans can win a medal by beating the other semifinal loser -- either Norway or Switzerland, both 5-2 -- in the bronze medal match. The championship and bronze-medal matches are Sunday.
     Until Somerville's dramatic shot dislodged a Japan stone from the tee -- the center of the 12-foot scoring circle -- the Japanese appeared headed for a victory. Team captain Makoto Tsuruga shot spectacularly, with a shooting percentage of 100 on draws until the final end.
     Two shots before Somerville's tap, Tsuruga placed a stone dead-center in the circle, then put a blocker in front for protection.
     But Somerville's final shot deflected off another American stone just to the front and right of two Japanese rocks, dislodging both and giving the United States the decisive point.
     Tsuruga, who was smiling and waving to the predominantly Japanese crowd just prior to the final shot, dropped to his knees in tears at the end of the match. Somerville pumped his fiss and ran to hug some U.S. fans.
     Another key point came in the fourth end. Japan threatened to take a big lead when American shooter Myles Brundidge took out three Japanese rocks with a single throw.