Spirit maintains energy, defensive strategy, 22-12 Defeating Canton again part of hectic three days

February 25, 1996|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Spirit dropped by the Baltimore Arena yesterday on the second stop of its three-day, three-city tour.

Then, after defeating the Canton Invaders for the second straight day -- this time by a 22-12 count -- the Spirit boarded a Buffalo, N.Y.-bound bus so they could make it to today's 1:05 p.m. matchup with the Blizzard.

The Spirit, which had a 13-day break before upending the Invaders, 24-10 in Canton on Friday night, appears to have adjusted to its schedule, but the real test comes today when the teams battle for second place in the NPSL's American Division.

Baltimore (18-12) enters the game trailing Buffalo by a half-game. Moreover, the Spirit will have played three games in 42 hours after today's contest; the Blizzard enters today's game with six days' rest.

"Our big focus was getting out of the box early, which is exactly what we did in both games against Canton," said Spirit midfielder Dave Vaudreuil, who returned to the lineup Friday after missing nearly two months with a stomach injury. "Our goal [today] against Buffalo is to stay in range early, and then in the third or fourth quarter, we'll try to win the game."

Yesterday's win came easy for the Spirit, which has won four straight and is 5-1 since player/coach Mike Stankovic took over Jan. 31.

Stankovic led by example early when he took a pass from Cris Vaccaro, dodged Canton's Bill Cann, and drilled a shot past the outstretched arms of Invaders goalie Drew Burwash for the game's opening goal.

Goals by Vaudreuil and Lance Johnson helped put the Spirit up 6-2 after the first quarter. Some fine defense and more offense from Stankovic and Vaudreuil -- the team's leading scorers with five points apiece -- gave the Spirit a 12-2 halftime lead.

The Invaders, who have lost eight straight, looked like a team that was 4-28 and last in the American Division. They allowed Baltimore to run out to a 16-2 lead in the third quarter on the first of two goals by Bobby Joe Esposito.

Stankovic's defense-minded team sputtered momentarily in the third quarter and let Canton reel off three straight goals, including a three-pointer by Denzil Antonio that pulled the Invaders to 16-9 heading into the fourth quarter.

Esposito ended Canton's run 35 seconds into the fourth quarter when he converted a feed from Stankovic -- his third assist -- and the teams traded goals down the stretch.

Vaccaro, who entered the game with the lowest points-against average in the league (10.46), improved to 9-4 as he faced 23 shots and came up with 17 saves.

"I'm exhausted, but it's not over yet," said Stankovic, as he prepared for his trip to Buffalo. "Today's game was a little more difficult than Friday's because of the traveling and all, but we played well as a team and we played well defensively. Now we have to go do it all over again, and we'll give it our best shot and see what happens."

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