Spirit ripped in playoff opener, 21-9

April 09, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Even the return to the lineup of three star players failed to restore the Spirit's magic.

Cris Vaccaro was in goal, Paul Wright scored and Doug Neely defended, but the Spirit bowed to the Harrisburg Heat, 21-9, last night before 4,201 at the State Farm Arena in the opener of the NPSL playoffs.

The Spirit and Heat, seeded first and fourth, respectively, as they were in last year's playoffs when Harrisburg swept the first two games, will meet in Game 2 of the best-of-three series tonight in Baltimore.

Vaccaro, Wright and Neely and three other players sat out last weekend's final regular-season games against Harrisburg with injuries, which seemed to account in part for the losses by a combined score of 35-10.

The Vaccaro touch was missing. The 35-year-old goalie had a 23-7 regular-season record, and the Spirit was 1-7 in games he didn't start.

Wright, who broke or tied eight club records this season, scored the game's first goal but limped through the second half with a sore ankle after being leg-tackled by Bob Lilley. "I'll be OK for the next game," Wright said.

With the defeat, the Spirit is 1-7 in two years in Harrisburg, winning on Rob Ukrop's overtime goal in November. The Spirit has dropped 11 of its past 13 road games and nine of its past 13 overall.

In three playoff games with Harrisburg, starting with the two last season, the Spirit has been outscored, 59-21.

"In the first quarter, it was fine," coach Kenny Cooper said, noting the teams were tied at 4. "We had chances to go ahead and didn't. We simply weren't finishing."

The series will end at the Baltimore Arena, where the Spirit's record this season is 18-2.

The Heat is the hottest team in the NPSL. It has won four straight and nine of its past 12 to reach the playoffs for the third straight year.

Bill Becher scored four goals for Harrisburg and Lilley added three. The Spirit's Rusty Troy scored twice.

Wright opened the scoring with a two-pointer, giving him at least one point in 21 straight games. Richard Chinapoo tied it, but 15 seconds later, Mike Stankovic sent Baltimore ahead 4-2.

The Spirit turned silent in the second quarter and Harrisburg went on an 8-1 run to take a 12-5 lead.

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