A season filled with bizarre happenings for the Baltimore Blast finally took a turn for the better last night at the Baltimore Arena.
The Blast broke loose from a 1-12 slide and blitzed the Dallas Sidekicks, 9-4, before 11,445 on Fan Appreciation Night.
It was the largest home crowd of the season, and the fans watched Baltimore (21-30) reduce its magic number to one for clinching the final Major Soccer League Eastern Division playoff berth.
The Blast would have wrapped up third place in the East if Cleveland had turned back last-place Wichita last night, but the host Wings stayed alive by beating the Crunch, 7-6, in overtime.
The Blast completes its regular season with a game against Cleveland tonight at Richfield (Ohio) Coliseum at 8:05. A victory would give Baltimore its 11th playoff spot in the franchise's 11-year history.
Wichita concludes its schedule tomorrow afternoon at home against the St. Louis Storm. If the Blast loses and the Wings win, thus creating a tie in the standings, Wichita would make the playoffs because it won the season series over Baltimore.
Blast players didn't celebrate in the locker room, instead spending time on the playing field signing autographs for the many fans who seemed to care little that the team had lost six straight games by one goal before last night.
At least for one night, the Blast players were heroes, as they waltzed past the Sidekicks behind the scoring of Domenic Mobilio (two goals, four assists) and Rusty Troy (three goals).
Mobilio's six-point game gave him 48 goals and 32 assists this season, enabling him to become the first Blast player since Stan Stamenkovic (1985-86) to compile 80 points in a season.
Troy started the Blast in the right direction with two goals in the second quarter when Baltimore scored four times for a 4-0 halftime lead.
After that, it was mostly a show by the same team that had looked as if it were destined to lose every time it stepped on the playing field.
Baltimore had lost a franchise-record five straight home games before last night.
"We owned the building tonight," Blast coach Kenny Cooper said. "We used to own this building permanently."
Blast goalkeeper Hank Henry, who once was a part-time player and an assistant public relations director for the Sidekicks, had a satisfying night.
Henry made 10 saves to hold off Tatu and the Sidekicks, who had won three straight games before last night.
Henry got more than enough offensive support from Mobilio and Troy on an evening when Dale Mitchell and Billy Ronson were honored as team co-Most Valuable Players.
But Mitchell and Ronson combined for only one assist last night.
Cooper said last night's MVP wasn't any player on the field for the Blast.
"It was the fans and the [Famous] Chicken," Cooper said, referring to the former San Diego Chicken. "The Chicken electrified the crowd, and the fans supported us like they have all year."
Dallas 0 0 1 3 -- 4
Baltimore 0 4 1 4 -- 9
First quarter--None. Penalties--none.
Second quarter--1. Baltimore, Troy 26 (Stankovic), pp, 3:40; 2. Baltimore, Mobilio 47 (Mettrick), 3:59; 3. Baltimore, Chinapoo 21 (Mitchell), 7:28; 4. Baltimore, Troy 27 (Stankovic), 9:45. Penalties--Tatu, Dallas (handball), 1:46.
Third quarter--5. Dallas, Woodberry 20 (Tatu), 3:38; 6. Baltimore, Troy 28 ( Mobilio), pp, 8:32. Penalties--Carrera, Dallas (charging), 7:07.
Fourth quarter--7. Baltimore, Mettrick 19 (Mobilio), 0:11; 8. Baltimore, Reynolds 13 (Mobilio), 4:16; 9. Dallas, Tatu 77 (Uremovich), 5:41; 10, Dallas, DeBrito 18 (Uremovich), 6:13; 11. Dallas, Tatu 78 un., 7:13; 12. Baltimore, Mobilio 48 un., 9:12; 13. Baltimore, Chinapoo 22 (Mobilio), 14:03. Penalties-- Chinapoo, Baltimore (pushing), 7:13.
Shots on goal--Dallas 3-4-9-4--20; Baltimore 6-13-5-12--36; Saves--Dallas, Venable 18. Baltimore, Henry 10. Referees--Herb Silva, Gino Dippilito, Paul Tamburino; A--11,445.