Spirit's home cooking spoils in Heat's 16-3 playoff victory

April 07, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

The Spirit's touch at the Baltimore Arena suddenly vanished.

In the place where it was 18-2 during the regular season, where it had won its past eight, the Spirit bowed to the Harrisburg Heat, 16-3, in an NPSL playoff opener last night before 5,417.

The Spirit's last loss at the Arena was Jan. 23 to the Wichita Wings, and it had won 13 of its past 14. The other regular-season loss at home was to the Cleveland Crunch on Dec. 29.

"They came to play and we didn't," said defender Steve Boardman. "They out-worked us and out-wanted us."

By holding the Spirit to its lowest point total of the season, the Heat took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. The second game is tonight in Harrisburg, Pa., where the Heat beat the Spirit three times by a combined 61-37.

Harrisburg, which had lost four straight on the road, broke open a close game in which the Spirit led at halftime, 3-2, by erupting for 14 unanswered points in the second half. The Spirit failed to score over the final 47 minutes, 46 seconds.

"This was only the second time we played like this," coach Kenny Cooper said, noting that the other time was Jan. 23 here against Wichita. "Our passing and finishing weren't there. The final pass wasn't where it should be."

The Spirit was hurt by a subpar Rusty Troy, the team's No. 2 scorer. He has been slowed by a sore groin for weeks.

"It really bothers me," Troy said, adding sharply that the boos he heard last night bothered him, too. "I can't do everything I normally do. But it's possible there's only 60 minutes left in our season, so I'm going to play."

The third quarter was highlighted by a three-goal Harrisburg spurt in 2:24. A goal by John Abe and two by Doug Miller gave the Heat an 8-3 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Miller got a hat trick when he raised Harrisburg's lead to 10-3 early in the fourth quarter.

Franklin McIntosh gave Harrisburg a 2-0 lead, but Goran Hunjak tied it. Kevin Smith's one-point shootout, giving Baltimore a 3-2 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter, was the final point of the half.

The Spirit narrowly missed a goal late in the first period. Harrisburg goalie Joe Mallia stopped Eric Dade's shot, but the ball rolled free and was about to enter the goal when Bob Lilley deftly kicked it aside.

Mallia was making his sixth start since rookie Brett Phillips sprained his ankle in the March 16 game against Baltimore.

Before the game, Spirit coach Kenny Cooper was talking with NPSL commissioner Steve Paxos about the Spirit's 18-2 home record. "It's intimidating to visiting teams," Paxos said. "Most teams are 40 percent beat when they step on the carpet."

Cooper recalled the early 1980s when the Blast, which he was coaching at the time, was virtually unbeatable at the Arena.

"It's a grand old building; I adore it," Cooper said. "It's a small field and the fans are on top of you. You're so close, you can look up and recognize fans.

"A team can be down and out and the fans, almost breathing on you, will you on. We feed off the fans. Teams used to fear coming in."

Harrisburg, for one, fears coming in no longer.

NOTES: Boardman is the only Spirit player with NPSL playoff experience. He played in 15 playoff games with the Detroit Rockers the past two seasons. Seven Spirit players had postseason experience in the defunct MSL. . . . The only regular on either team who sat out the game was Harrisburg's Todd Smith, who scored 27 points before being knocked out with a back injury. . . . Boardman was presented the Mike Reynolds Unsung Hero Award in a pregame ceremony. Reynolds, a former Blast player, died in 1991. Other Spirit players honored: Goran Hunjak, Offensive Player of Year; Barry Stitz, Anita Nall Rookie of Year Award; goalie Cris Vaccaro, Defensive Player of Year. . . . A group of ex-Colts participated in a soccer kicking contest at halftime for the benefit of the Ed Block Foundation and the St. Vincent's Child Abuse Center. . . . If the Spirit wins this series, it will open the second round Saturday on the road against Buffalo or Cleveland, which meet tonight in the final game of their series. The next two games would be Monday and next Wednesday at the Baltimore Arena. The best-of-five championship series will be staged the final two weeks of this month. . . . Spirit players are paid for the playoffs at their regular-season salary rate.

Harrisburg 2 0 6 8 -- 16

Baltimore .3 0 0 3 -- 6

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