Healthy Spirit rallies, overcomes Ambush, 15-11 3-game winning streak gets 2-game division lead

February 17, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

Maybe the Spirit has finally roused itself for a dash through the stretch.

Astride the National Professional Soccer League's East Division with a two-game lead over the second-place Harrisburg Heat, the Spirit is on a three-game winning streak, its longest of the season.

Matched against the best team in the league yesterday, less than 24 hours after beating one of the worst (Columbus Invaders), the Spirit edged the St. Louis Ambush, 15-11, before 3,509 at Baltimore Arena.

"Our spirit is up," player-coach Mike Stankovic said. "It's important that we are connecting with each other."

If the team is playing as a unit, a major reason is that it is healthier than it has been all season, including opening night. Recently signed rookie Shane Dougherty (ankle) is the only injured player.

"With a full team, we're playing with more confidence," said Jason Dieter, whose goal gave him a career-high 15. "We're coming together. Everybody's scoring, from forward to back, and that's what it takes."

The Spirit won yesterday with two robust spurts. The first was in the first half, when, behind 4-0, Sasa Zoric, Ronnie Simmons and Dieter scored seven points in less than four minutes for a 7-4 lead. Simmons' thundering three-pointer was the big kick.

The second spurt was in the fourth quarter. Trailing 11-9, veteran Branko Segota assisted another veteran, Stankovic, to tie it. Bo Vuckovic then scored what proved to be the winning goal and Lance Johnson booted in a cushion to relieve the suspense with 1: 06 left.

"We've gotten a lot of confidence these last three games," Vuckovic said. "St. Louis played well, but we all stepped up and didn't panic when we were behind."

Vuckovic had a big day. With two goals, he went over the 100-point level (103) for the second straight season and poked in the game-winner.

In St. Louis (21-5), the Spirit (16-14) beat a team with the best record in the league and is top-ranked defensively, ahead of the Milwaukee Wave and the Spirit.

"Baltimore has good players and knows how to play in this building," Ambush player-coach Daryl Doran said. "We played good enough to win. We had opportunities, just didn't convert. They were the lucky team tonight."

Cris Vaccaro again was strong in goal, with 18 saves. In his past six games, Vaccaro has a 5-1 record and an 8.68 goals-against average.

"Cris has been great," Stankovic said. "As long as we're together as a team, we'll be tough to beat. We're building for the playoffs."

The modest winning streak reminds Vaccaro of last season, when the Spirit captured 11 of its final 14 games and charged into the playoffs, reaching the second round for the first time.

"It was this kind of momentum that carried us into the playoffs last season," Vaccaro said.

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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