The round-robin portion of the Scott Tournament of Hearts concluded with Cunningham's foursome, representing Newfoundland-Labrador, clinching the final playoff spot.
Cunningham snuck through the back door, so to speak, winning three in a row to bypass Ontario's Anne Dunn (5-6), loser of her last four games.
Jan Betker is all smiles as Sask. secures a playoff spot Thursday.(CP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
"I think I'm shocked we're the only ones at 6-5, but I'll take it," Cunningham said following her last-gasp 10-5 victory over Barb Spencer of Manitoba at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
"Oh my gosh, we've got one mountain and then a massive glacier and then another mountain and another glacier to get over between now and Sunday. But one rock at a time, I guess."
Admitted a despondent Dunn: "It's hard losing four games in a row. I didn't expect that to happen."
Cathy Cunningham concentrates at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.(CP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Under the Page playoff format, Friday's 1-2 matchup pits top-seeded Gaudet of Prince Edward Island (10-1) against defending champion Colleen Jones (8-3), who hails from Halifax.
The victor advances directly to Sunday's final (1:30 p.m. ET, CBC), while the loser goes on to face the winner of the 3-4 playoff game in Saturday's semifinal.
"To know you're in the big game and have the two chances to get into the final, it's a real luxury spot to be in," said Jones, seeking an unprecedented fifth title.
Jones defeated Gaudet in the tournament opener for both rinks, but the Hearts rookie is guaranteed last-rock advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We would love to be the first P.E.I. team to win this, so we'll try to do that," Gaudet said. "I think everybody (at home) is pretty excited as it is.
"We're getting tons of e-mails. We got a hundred and some this morning."
"They have been the Cinderella team of the tournament so far," Jones observed. "They have been the most consistent."
Certainly, experience favours Jones, a six-time participant in the final.
Yet Gaudet has proven unflappable thus far and is, herself, a former world and two-time Canadian junior champion.
"I've been in pretty big games, so I'm not worried about that too much," Gaudet said. "It's how well your team plays at any given time."
"I think the Canadian junior experience helps her a lot," Jones added. "I think teams are better prepared now to handle it.
"They've all got coaches and sports psychologists. I think they've got less nerves and more composure than what we had back in my day."
Friday's 3-4 playoff game features Jan Betker of Saskatchewan (7-4) clashing with Cunningham.
Betker qualified earlier in the day with clutch 10-6 and 7-4 wins over Nova Scotia's Nancy McConnery (5-6) and Dunn, respectively.
Betker actually trailed McConnery, 4-3 before blowing it wide-open with a rare five-pointer in the seventh end.
"Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The round robin is over," Betker said. "I haven't been sleeping, so I am exhausted.
"My back is sore. I'm feeling all of my 42 years today, let me tell you."
with files from CP Online