Spirit takes chance, wins opener Sloan's gutsy goal helps beat Heat, 16-11

March 29, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

In the Spirit scheme of things, or the gospel according to coach Mike Stankovic, the idea is to be defensively responsible at all times, and go for it when the situation presents itself.

The Spirit, after trailing the Harrisburg Heat by two at halftime, had drawn even on a Bobby Joe Esposito goal 15 seconds into the third period, but Dave Vaudreuil was hit with a boarding penalty.

No time to take a chance? Kevin Sloan didn't think so. Instead of falling back and setting up to kill a penalty, he saw an opportunity and took it. His subsequent three-point goal sent Baltimore on its way to a 16-11 win at the Baltimore Arena and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three National Professional Soccer League playoff series.

"The element of surprise was what I was banking on," said Sloan, the team's leading active scorer with Franklin McIntosh serving a suspension. "I was coming in to hit it with my left foot and that gives [goaltenders] a problem sometime."

Sloan beat the coach to the ball and sent the ball spinning off to the left.

Meanwhile, teammate Lance Johnson was flashing in front of the Heat goal, providing a screen.

"I don't think Mike expected me to do what I did, but it was time to take the initiative and surprise was working for me," said Sloan, whose goal gave the Spirit a 9-6 lead heading into the last quarter.

The Heat did tie it at the start of the fourth quarter, but Baltimore had the momentum.

Less than two minutes after the 9-9 tie, Brad Smith put the Spirit up 11-9 and Stankovic provided breathing room by scoring another three-pointer, which ricocheted off a Heat defender.

This sudden burst of five points in 26 seconds was decisive. The teams traded two-point goals over the last 12 minutes.

It was probably the last thing the Spirit wanted, having to open up the offense and think attack. But giving Harrisburg just six points over the first three quarters signaled that they had played a heckuva defensive game, too.

The ice-breaker came after a very careful opening by the rivals, Esposito stealing the ball, beating goalie Scoop Stanisic to it and nudging it toward the goal. It didn't go in, but trailer Sloan was there to bash it in.

The Heat countered with the next three scores. But 15 seconds into the third period, Stankovic bolted down the right wing, crossed a pass to the top of the box where Jason Maricle stopped it and left the ball for Esposito, who made the tying score.

Note: Game 2 is Monday in Harrisburg, where the Spirit was 0-3 this season.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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