Spirit too hot for Heat, wins, 11-7

March 17, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

An expansion team is inching toward the NPSL's American Division regular-season championship.

The Spirit, in its first year in the National Professional Soccer League, clinched at least a tie for the division title with an 11-7 victory over the Harrisburg Heat last night before a paid crowd of 5,619. The actual crowd was 2,402.

The Spirit is 25-11 with four games remaining. The Buffalo Blizzard and Cleveland Crunch both have 21 wins.

The Spirit raised its home record to 16-2, including the last six in a row.

The Harrisburg-Baltimore rivalry is knotted at 2-2, with one game left, March 27 at Harrisburg. The Spirit stormed back last night after being crushed in two games in Harrisburg by a combined score of 48-26.

The Heat came within 9-7 in the fourth quarter on Franklin McIntosh's second goal of the night. But when Harrisburg inserted a sixth attacker with two minutes left, Spirit goalie Cris Vaccaro stopped a shot and heaved the ball the length of the field into Harrisburg's goal for a two-point goal and an 11-7 advantage.

Rusty Troy, the Spirit's No. 2 scorer behind Goran Hunjak, opened the scoring with a two-pointer at the 2:51 mark, raising his total points to 116. Hunjak then increased his total to 128 with his 49th goal for a 4-0 Baltimore lead.

Harrisburg scored at 5:07 into the second quarter on John Abe's two-point kick. Kevin Smith's one-point shootout goal past Harrisburg goalie Brett Phillips gave the Spirit a 5-2 halftime lead.

The second quarter included an unusual three-on-three situation after a batch of unsportsmanlike conduct and tripping penalties -- but neither team scored. There were nine penalties in the first half.

The third quarter was marked by an exchange of taunting dances after scores by the Spirit's Smith and Harrisburg's Franklin McIntosh.

Smith performed after he got an assist when his errant pass glanced off Tim Wittman into the goal for a 7-2 Baltimore advantage and McIntosh wiggled in delight after his two-pointer two minutes later. Smith danced again briefly after his second goal raised the Spirit's lead to 9-4 entering the fourth quarter.

The Spirit welcomed back All-Star defender Doug Neely, who had missed five games with a sprained ankle. Three other Spirit players were ailing, but played anyway -- Hunjak (sprained ankle), Troy (back) and Jason Dieter (flu).

"If a season isn't going well, an injury is a reason not to play," said coach Kenny Cooper. "But when you're winning, guys don't want to miss it."

With Troy battered, Cooper has moved Wittman into the target man spot (the forward who plays with his back to the goal) on occasion.

Result? Wittman had the winning goal in overtime last week against the Milwaukee Wave and four goals and two assists in Friday's 23-15 win over the Canton Invaders.

"Rusty is hurting big time," Cooper said. "It's a perfect spot for Timmy. When he was with the Blast, we kept moving him around. He loves the pressure."

NOTES: Vaccaro, ranked third among the NPSL's goalies, made his 33rd start for the Spirit. . . . Rookie Brian Hartlove has started twice, most recently in Friday's win at Canton. . . . The Spirit now faces a three-games-in-three-days stretch, starting Friday at Cleveland against the Crunch and here Saturday against the Detroit Rockers and Sunday against the Buffalo Blizzard. "At this point, it's more mental than anything," Cooper said. After that, only one regular-season game will remain, March 27 at Harrisburg. . . . The Spirit is first in power-play scoring in the NPSL with 23 goals in 44 attempts (52.27 percent).

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