At point of no return, Spirit seeks an offensive comeback Lack of scoring digs 0-2 hole vs. Crunch

April 09, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

The Spirit, it would seem, is running out of options. Team defense got it turned around over the last 40 percent of the season and through the first round of the playoffs. But it wasn't enough to hold off Cleveland in the first two games of the American Division finals, and it is questionable if there is enough offense left on the roster for a reversal of fortune.

Noticing the team was "flat" after an opening loss to the Crunch last Friday, coach Mike Stankovic spoke of making "adjustments" and doing the things it takes to get more points on the board.

Remember, the Spirit wrapped up the series against Harrisburg with a 7-6 victory and clinched second place in the division on the last weekend with a 6-5 triumph in St. Louis. A point-a-minute gang this club isn't.

Circumstances are such that too much pressure probably is being placed on the coordinated defense in front of goalie Cris Vaccaro to play a near flawless game so an offense hurt by the loss of attack threats Franklin McIntosh to suspension and Brad Smith to injury can produce enough to win.

Although it's true Baltimore had seven goals while losing in overtime to the Crunch, 16-14, Sunday, it had to blank Cleveland, 6-0, over the last nine minutes of regulation to force sudden death. The equalizer in regulation by Bobby Joe Esposito happened with 12 seconds left. How often are such rallies going to happen?

Stankovic claimed correctly "both games in Cleveland could have gone either way," but that's the way it is more often than not in playoff games contested no matter what the sport. The fact remains the Spirit is 0-2 in the best-of-five and it's Mount Everest it's facing beginning with Game 3 at the Arena tonight.

Crunch star Hector Marinaro was quick to point out, "All the pressure is on Baltimore now. They have to win three in a row."

Meanwhile, the Spirit attitude seems to be that it had to win three games to take the series anyway, what's the difference when or where? Whether up 2-0 or down 0-2, Stankovic is stoical: "We'll have to deal with it."

The Spirit has a short, four-year history in the NPSL. The success it has had during the regular season -- two first- and two second-place finishes -- hasn't carried over into the postseason. As the division leaders the first two years, it was blitzed two straight by Harrisburg. Last spring, it lost to the Heat again, 2-1, but swept the same team this year.

The Crunch was the division leader this season and, with the home-site advantage, was the favorite heading into this series. Maybe the real pressure on Baltimore right now considering its overall playoff record of 3-8 is to avoid an embarrassing sweep. Then get to work on accomplishing a huge comeback.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 30

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

Outlook: The Spirit, with a 15-5 record at home during the regular season, is looking to avoid being swept in the best-of-five series. Baltimore had good success against the division leader during the season, winning three of four and averaging nearly 16 points. The Spirit's playoff scoring average is down to 12 points per game; the Crunch's exceeds 18.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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