In Spirit's playoff-opening win, balance weighs heavily in its favor Team spreads out scoring in McIntosh's absence

April 01, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

The key to the success of the Spirit the past two months and in its playoff-opening victory over the Harrisburg Heat on Thursday has been balance. In other words, if the right one doesn't get you, the left one will.

Against the Heat, for example, Kevin Sloan and Brad Smith got goals that put Baltimore ahead, Bobby Joe Esposito got one that tied the game, coach Mike Stankovic accounted for the game-winning three-pointer and John Garvey put the game on ice.

In the next-to-last game of the regular season, an important 6-5 victory in St. Louis, Dave Vaudreuil got the goal that gave the Spirit a victory and second place in the American Division of the NPSL.

No fewer than a dozen players scored at least 10 goals during the season as Baltimore was outscoring the opposition 306-258.

"Not only does spreading the scoring out bring a team together," said Stankovic, "it takes the pressure off some of the guys who are expected to score. It helps the defense, too, players feeling more responsible to do their part at both ends of the field."

The Spirit won Thursday despite missing its top scorer, the suspended Franklin McIntosh.

"I think the fact we played our last seven games on the road toughened us up," said Stankovic. "It's hard to win in some of those arenas, and it helps to play and think as one. It takes faith, too."

When Stankovic replaced Dave MacWilliams as coach at the beginning of February, the Spirit wasn't living up to its name and was porous defensively while going 13-11. Stankovic redesigned the team's style and redefined individual responsibilities.

"The players had to have faith in me that what I was saying would work," he said.

A dozen wins in 16 outings was a good way to start.

Winning the pressure game in St. Louis and turning back the Heat in Game 1 without McIntosh has firmly established Stankovic's credentials.

Spirit tonight Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: State Farm Show Arena, Harrisburg, Pa.

Time: 7: 05

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)

Outlook: The Spirit, which had lost the opening game of a playoff series against the Heat the previous three seasons, finally changed the script by whipping Harrisburg, 16-11, Thursday at Baltimore Arena. Baltimore held the Heat's potent scoring duo of Danny Kelly and Domenic Mobilio to one goal and two assists. In playoff action, Harrisburg has beaten the Spirit 22-9, 21-9 and 14-9 and lost in overtime, 17-15, on home turf. Harrisburg won all three of its home games against Baltimore this season, by a combined score of 52-33, and the Spirit has won only four of 17 games at the Show Arena since joining the NPSL four years ago. Baltimore's leading scorer, Franklin McIntosh, is suspended for the best-of-three series. Game 3 (if necessary) is tomorrow night (7: 35) at home.

Pub Date: 4/1/96

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