Crunch gets the jump on Spirit Baltimore falls, 15-11 in 2nd-round opener

April 06, 1996|By Jeff Schudel | Jeff Schudel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Crunch took a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five American Division final last night by beating the Spirit at its own game -- team defense.

After beating Harrisburg, 16-11 and 7-6, to advance to its first division final in the National Professional Soccer League, the Spirit found itself on the short end of a 15-11 score at the Cleveland State Convocation Center. Game 2 is 6 p.m. tomorrow in Cleveland.

The Crunch would have made it a blowout, but Baltimore goalie Cris Vaccaro, the former Cleveland Force keeper, kept the Spirit in the game with several diving stops in the first half. One in particular, a hand save on Henry Gutierrez with less than two minutes before intermission, left the Cleveland forward grabbing his hair in frustration.

Playing well himself, though, was no consolation to Vaccaro. "I don't think we played as solid defensively as we did the last month and a half of the regular season," Vaccaro said.

"Cleveland is a good offensive team. We know that. But if we play the type defense we're capable of playing, we'll be all right."

The Spirit had only 10 blocked shots. The Crunch had 18. Vaccaro and Crunch goalkeeper Otto Orf, who also made some spectacular stops, each had 20 saves.

Cleveland led 4-0 just 9: 41 into the game, but the Spirit showed the poise that earned it three victories against the Crunch in the regular season. Baltimore fought back to tie on goals by Jason Dieter and Barry Stitz. After Cleveland went up 6-4, player-coach Mike Stankovic blasted a shot from just inside the arc with 4: 21 left in the second period to make it 6-6 at halftime.

Cleveland went ahead 10-6 on goals by Hector Marinaro at 7: 06 and 8: 11 of the third period, but the Spirit would not go away. Dave Vaudreuil let loose a cannon shot from three-point range. Orf blocked it partially, but it trickled past him to slice the lead to 10-9.

Fired up, the Spirit took the lead 35 seconds into the fourth period on a picture goal. Vaudreuil, standing near the left post, fed the ball into the middle of the box to Kevin Sloan, who headed it into the net.

The Spirit lead was short-lived, however. Forty-eight seconds later, Cleveland regained the lead when Marinaro skidded the ball from the right board into the box, just out of Vaccaro's reach. Crunch midfielder Tommy Tanner slid so he wouldn't overrun the ball, and knocked it home. The Spirit had a chance to go back in front, but with 5: 07 left, Orf, flat on his back, managed to get a foot on a shot by Stitz from 12 feet.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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