The Major Soccer League Eastern Division championship series kicks off Thursday in Cleveland, thanks to Kansas City's 9-8 victory over Wichita yesterday afternoon.
Comets midfielder Carl Valentine notched the game-winner with just 20 seconds left in regulation.
The score held up when Kansas City goalkeeper Mike Dowler made a clutch save on a point-blank shot by Wichita's Chico Borja with two seconds left.
The victory gave Kansas City a two-game sweep in the series. In Game 1, the Comets shut out Wichita 6-0. The shutout was the eighth in MSL playoff history and the second one for goalkeeper Jim Gorsek, who beat the now-defunct Minnesota Strikers, 7-0, on May 14, 1985, as a member of the San Diego Sockers.
It was the first shutout in 28 playoff games for Kansas City and the first time Wichita had ever been shut out.
* WESTERN MATCHUP: In the Western Division, St. Louis will be heading for San Diego Saturday for the start of their best-of-seven division title series.
St. Louis ousted Tacoma in three games in the Western semifinals to set up the showdown with the defending MSL champion Sockers.
* COMET SOARING: Kansas City's David Doyle, who played just 15 games in the regular season because he was recovering from a broken leg, has hit his stride in the early postseason. Doyle had two goals in Game 1. And in Game 2 he set the stage for Kansas City's winning goal by tying the score at 8-8 with 5:36 gone in the fourth quarter. He also assisted on a power play goal by Tony Glavin in the first half.
* WINGS' BEST/WORST: Defender Steve Pittman tied yesterday's game at 7-7 on a shootout and then gave the Wings an 8-7 lead with 12:50 gone in the third quarter.
The Wings' eight goals in the semifinal series sets a league record for least goals scored by one team in a best-of-three series.
* EASTERN SCHEDULE: The best-of-seven Eastern championship series will be played in Cleveland April 18 and 20. Games 3, 4 and 5 will be in Kansas City April 24, 26 and, if necessary April 28. If Games 6 and 7 are necessary, they will be at Cleveland May 1 and 4.
* OFFENSIVE WEAPONS: The Eastern Division matchup promises a high-scoring showdown: Cleveland's Zoran Karic vs. Kansas City's Jan Goossens.
Karic finished the regular season with 73 goals and 48 assists, good for second in the league behind Tatu.
Meanwhile, Goossens rolled up 53 goals and 58 assists, finishing as the league's third-most productive player and second-best assist maker.
Goossens, down the line, has been the hottest player of record, with 22 points in his last five regular-season games. In the semifinals, he had one goal and six assists.
* STORMING ALONG: St. Louis earned the dubious right to take on San Diego in the West. In between the Storm's 9-1 and 9-2 victories over Tacoma, the Stars pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory. The Storm outscored the Stars 22-7 overall.
Preki led the St. Louis scoring barrage against his former team, netting four goals in Game 1 and two more in Saturday's clincher.
Preki and teammate Thompson Usiyan, who were neck-in-neck all season for the Storm's goal-scoring honors, are now tied for first in the playoffs point race with eight each.
Usiyan had four assists Saturday and a total of three goals and one assist in Games 2 and 3.
The Storm jumped to an 8-0 lead with 10:24 gone in the fourth quarter Saturday. Mark Frederickson scored the first playoff hat trick of his 10-year career.
Former Blast defender Fred Thompson and forward Willie Molano scored Tacoma's only goals from the sixth-attacker formation for the final 9-2 result.
* WESTERN FINALS: Game 1 is in San Diego Thursday, with Game 2 set for Saturday. Games 3,4, and 5 will be in St. Louis April 21, 25 and, if necessary April 27. If Games 6 and 7 are necessary, they will be in San Diego, May 1 and 3.
* KEEPERS CLASH: Two of the best goalkeepers in the league, St. Louis' Zoltan Toth and San Diego's Victor Nogueira will go head-to-head in the West.
Toth will have his inspiration, since the Sockers did not attempt to re-sign him last summer, thus making him available to the Storm.
As for Nogueira, he is simply the best in the league this season. His 31 victories in the regular season broke the 1982-83 standard set by former San Diego keeper Alan Mayer.
Mayer's 30 victories were thought to be untouchable, given the two-goalkeeper system and the bigger goal area installed this season. But Nogueira finished 31-16,