Spirit turns tables on Heat, wins series 7-6 victory is clincher in 4th try vs. Harrisburg

April 02, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Amazing sometimes the difference between victory and defeat when two teams hunker down and go ferociously at each other for 60 minutes.

Right from the start, the crowd of 4,099 at the State Farm Show Arena knew its Harrisburg Heat team would do everything possible to avoid elimination from the playoffs by the Spirit.

The Heat did, but there was an instant when it let its guard down, and the Spirit was there to capitalize on its way to a 7-6 victory.

The visitors had the lead, 5-4, halfway through the second period when they got a restart outside the Harrisburg box. No sooner had the whistle blown when Omid Namazi sent a pass through the Heat defense to Jason Maricle, camped out at the far post.

Harrisburg had been caught napping, obviously. "It's a set play, but usually they close everything off and give you the outside," said Namazi. "They were a little slow in setting up. The opening was there."

And Maricle, he was there, too, scoring his second goal of the night.

"We were down 7-4 at halftime, but I was confident we could make it back," said Heat coach Jim Polihan. "I don't know what else we could have done to win it. The way they took us out of our game early and defended us throughout the second half, they deserved it."

The triumph, accomplished in back-to-back victories, reversed a trend that had seen the Heat eliminate the Spirit each of the previous three seasons in the first round of postseason play.

Spirit coach Mike Stankovic called it "exciting" being involved in such a close series with an "excellent team. They pushed us up to the next level where you have to play if you're going to win in the playoffs."

Said Polihan: "By getting by us, I think they have as good a chance to go quite a ways, maybe to the championship."

The Heat made the title game last year before losing.

The victory was not accomplished without a price for Baltimore. Hard-working Brad Smith went down with a knee injury early in JTC the second period and team trainer Carlo Mastrangelo said afterward that it appeared to be the anterior cruciate ligament.

"It's more than likely that Barry's season is finished," the trainer said. "We'll retest, but it doesn't look good."

The Spirit took the first two quarters, hitting intermission with a 7-4 lead.

Bobby Joe Esposito, who got the team started in last week's opening victory with a steal and nifty setup, did a replay with about four minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Esposito, moving in on the left, forced goalie Scoop Stanisic to make a save, then slipped the rebound across to Maricle barreling in from the right. The assist gave Esposito four points in the series and 69 points in 25 playoff games.

After the Heat had tied it early in the second quarter, Chris Kelly beating Cris Vaccaro, Baltimore dominated. Jason Dieter, closely defended, unloaded from the three-point arc, his defender probably serving as a screen as the ball found the left sliver of the goal.

The Namazi-to-Maricle connection came through after Harrisburg had closed within 5-4 after six minutes of the second quarter.

In the next couple of minutes after Maricle's second goal, John Garvey hit a post, Dieter and Namazi went high over chunks of open net and a bullet by Stankovic was deflected over the crossbar.

The home team enjoyed a huge territorial edge in the third quarter, but, after a goal by Bob Lilley early, Vaccaro and a very active defense held on.

The final 15 minutes were even more frenzied in front of Vaccaro. In the last 18 seconds alone, Harrisburg had four restart kicks, all around the Spirit box.

"It's really too bad we have to play in the first round every year," said Stankovic. "These are two quality teams."

The Spirit awaits the winner of tonight's Cleveland-Buffalo game, with the second round of the playoffs starting Thursday in Baltimore if the Blizzard wins or Friday in Cleveland if the Crunch wins.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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