CLEVELAND -- It's too early to call for tee times, but this might be a good day for the Spirit players to have their golf clubs regripped.
The Spirit is just one loss from the off-season after a 16-14 overtime loss to the Cleveland Crunch yesterday at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center.
The Crunch leads the best-of-five series 2-0. Golf will begin Wednesday if the Spirit doesn't beat Cleveland tomorrow night in Game 3 at the Baltimore Arena.
"We're not playing our game," Spirit player/coach Mike Stankovic said. "We made a lot of fundamental mistakes. Giving up 16 points is a little too much for this team the way we've played in the past."
But Stankovic says it's premature to count his team out.
"Cleveland is a good team. We have to go back to Baltimore and play well there. We can't get our heads down. It's a best-of-five series, and they won two at home. Now they have to go on the road. We shouldn't be discouraged. Both games could have gone either way."
If anyone in the Baltimore locker room had reason to be discouraged it was Stankovic. With 13: 01 left in the overtime, Crunch forward Zoran Karic scored the game-winner on a corner kick that bounced off the back of Stankovic's right foot into the net. Karic said he was trying to pass to Chris Handsor at the back post.
The crowd cheered and the Crunch players jumped in celebration. Stankovic had a far different reaction. He grabbed the ball, even as the goal light was flashing, and kicked it high into the stands. Spirit goalie Cris Vaccaro, another excellent performance wasted, stormed by Stankovic in anger.
"I didn't even try to react because I never saw it," Stankovic said. "I had time, but I couldn't see through the legs of the [two-man Baltimore] wall. It suddenly came to me and deflected off me. They got a lucky goal."
Sudden death is an appropriate term for the way the Spirit lost because until Karic's game-winner, the late momentum belonged to Baltimore.
The Spirit fought back from a 14-8 deficit with less than 11 jTC minutes left in the fourth quarter to force the overtime. The game-tying goal was scored by Bobby Joe Esposito with 12 seconds left. He scored from 15 feet out on a feed from Dave Vaudreuil, who had received a pass from Kevin Sloan.
The goal sent Crunch players into a fury; they were convinced Sloan fouled Oscar Draguicevich to win the ball on the left boards. Hector Marinaro, the NPSL leading scorer in the regular season and the playoffs, protested too strongly and was banished to the penalty box for five minutes.
With Marinaro in the box and Karic unable to take a regular shift because of an injured right knee, the Spirit had a golden chance to win, but it never made a shot on goal in the overtime.
With the score 6-6, Crunch goalkeeper Otto Orf dived to his right to block a chest-high penalty shot by Sloan at 9: 36 of the third quarter. That save inspired Cleveland to take a 10-6 lead. But the Spirit refused to give in.
"We were always in the game," Stankovic said. "We came back when we were down. Unfortunately, they got a goal they didn't have to work for."
Stankovic is confident the Spirit won't fade quietly, but Marinaro, who has seven goals in the two games, says Baltimore should be sweating -- and not from exertion.
"All the pressure is on them," Marinaro said. "They have to win three games in a row to win the series. That's tough to do in this league against anybody."
Spirit ..... 2 .. 4 .. 2 .. 6 .. 0 .. -- .. 14
Cleveland .. 0 .. 4 .. 8 .. 2 .. 2 .. -- .. 16
Pub Date: 4/08/96