Spirit starts quickly, isn't finished, 23-14 Staves off elimination, Crunch with 13-0 start

April 10, 1996|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

It took the Spirit players about a minute to establish the fact that they had no intention of letting their season end last night.

Hitting the carpet with the speed of the pole-sitter at next month's Indy 500, Baltimore hammered seven points into the Cleveland Crunch goal in less than seven minutes and only looked back once on the way to a 23-14 victory before 3,679 at the Baltimore Arena.

Thus, the Spirit avoided elimination from the American Division title showdown and trails two games to one in the best-of-five series heading into Saturday night's game at the Arena.

Until the visitors woke up late in the second quarter, crowding three goals into 1: 07 to cut into a 13-0 deficit, this one resembled a Mike Tyson fight: Several lefts, a couple of rights and an official reciting numbers over a form on the floor.

"I didn't feel real comfortable until we got into the fourth quarter," said Bobby Joe Esposito, one of five players who scored two goals apiece for Baltimore. "I did feel pretty good about the fact that we had a six-point lead throughout the game.

"Whether you're on the road or at home, you want to score first. I know how you feel on the road when the home team scores first: 'Oh-oh, here we go again.' "

Regular-season statistics and the report out of sick bay dictated that the Spirit would be foolhardy to get caught up in a shootout with the Crunch, the National Professional Soccer League offensive leader. Once player/coach Mike Stankovic had scored the first goal after just 68 seconds, however, the Spirit had problems holding itself back.

It scored first in all four quarters, usually right off, which had to have a disheartening effect on the Crunch. The home defense kept Cleveland scoring machine Hector Marinaro off the board for the first 40 minutes.

"We came into this game disappointed," Stankovic said of 15-11 and 16-14 losses to open the series. "We played two good games and got nothing. We analyzed how we lost the first two games and said we've got to do something about their counter-attacking."

Any disappointment appeared to show up as added speed and reduced reaction time by the Spirit. After the coach's opening goal, John Garvey hit one, then Esposito added a three-pointer. Then it was Stankovic again, Dave Vaudreuil and Kevin Sloan. It was 13-0 and 10 minutes were left in the half.

"We knew if we settled down and just played our regular game we'd be OK," said Esposito. But that didn't come until Cleveland had shown how quickly it can turn things around, closing the gap to 13-6 at halftime.

"They're the best transition team in the league," said Stankovic. "You can run up and down with them, but if you don't capitalize on your chances, you're going to get beat, because they will. They're quick and they finish."

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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