HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Spirit did a sharp about-face. With its back to the wall, the team that looked so inept in the playoff opener played with heart.
Rookie Pat O'Kelly scored 5:23 into overtime to give the Spirit a 17-15 victory over the Harrisburg Heat last night before 3,583 at the State Farm Show Arena, staving off Baltimore's elimination.
With the series tied at one, the teams will meet tonight in the final of the best-of-three series for the right to advance to the National Professional Soccer League American Division final against tonight's Cleveland Crunch-Buffalo Blizzard winner.
The Spirit wiped out a seven-point deficit and tied the score in regulation at 14 on Franklin McIntosh's three-pointer with 15 seconds left.
Only 1:27 into overtime, the score was tied again, at 15, after McIntosh and David Bascome each made one-point shootouts.
O'Kelly then scored his first goal of the season for the game-winner. A 27-year-old accountant from South Orange, N.J., O'Kelly played in eight games this season.
O'Kelly was assisted on the goal by Mike Stankovic, who won the ball at midfield. McIntosh ran to the other side of the field, taking two Heat players with him.
"I ran left, Stank gave me a beautiful ball and I toe-poked it under Scoop," O'Kelly said, referring to Harrisburg goalie Scoop Stanisic.
The Spirit was on the verge of being eliminated by the Heat for the third straight year when it decided to nibble at Harrisburg's 14-7 lead. McIntosh was the leader.
"Monday night I thought we were nervous," McIntosh said. "Tonight we had a lot of heart and character and never gave up. A lot of teams would have quit, down by seven points."
The Spirit entered the evening with a six-game losing streak and having dropped six straight road games. Its lifetime record here was 2-9.
When the Spirit fell behind 14-7 midway through the third quarter, the outlook was bleak.
But even then, coach Dave MacWilliams kept exhorting the players as they came into the box after a shift: "You gotta believe we're going to win this game!"
In the team meeting before the game, MacWilliams said he had "a good feeling. They were pumped like I had never seen them before. They gave it their all. It was an effort I'll never forget."
The way Harrisburg broke from the gate, a repeat of Monday night's 17-4 rout appeared in the offing. A goal by Danny Kelly and two by ex-Spirit Tarik Walker gave the Heat a 6-0 first-quarter lead. Walker, who had a goal and two assists in the opener, was playing despite a slightly aggravated hamstring injury.
The Spirit moved within 6-4 on goals by rookie Chris Morgan, his first since Jan. 22 in Dayton, and Kevin Sloan.
Sloan, the team's scoring leader, was shut out in in the opener, as was No. 2 scorer Jon Parry. That marked the first time this season the top two scorers were blanked in the same game.
Kelly then sent in a thundering three-pointer for a 9-4 lead and raised his points in six games against the Spirit this season to 30, including 10 in the two playoff games.
Tim Wittman scored on a power play after Bascome was called for tripping, leaving Baltimore behind at halftime 9-5. The Spirit outshot the Heat 26-13.
NOTES: The Spirit's wounded -- Wittman (pulled calf muscle) and Jason Dieter (bruised big toe) -- also played. . . . In a switch of Spirit reserves, MacWilliams activated O'Kelly for the game in place of Michael Brady.
Baltimore .. ..0 ..5 ..2 ..7 ..3 ..-- ..17
Harrisburg . ..6 ..3 ..5 ..0 ..1 ..-- ..15