Spirit's win ends Heat streak at 6 Defense sparks 10-9 victory, but division title hopes lost

March 23, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Harrisburg Heat came into last night's game with the best team defense in the National Professional Soccer League, but the Spirit showed it could play some defense as well.

The Spirit held off Harrisburg's fourth-quarter rally to churn out a much-needed 10-9 road win before 7,297 at the State Farm Show Arena.

The Spirit win didn't stop the Heat from winning its first NPSL East Division title.

With two regular-season games left for both teams, the best the second-place Spirit (19-19) can do is finish in a tie with the Heat (21-17) atop the division, but Harrisburg has the head-to-head edge in the goal differential tiebreaker.

The Spirit, second in the East and tied for third in the American Conference with Cincinnati, needed a nine-point win last night to keep its division title hopes alive.

The loss ends a six-game winning streak for the Heat. The Spirit rebounded nicely from Friday's 24-15 loss at Detroit.

"This was a playoff-mentality game from the first whistle to the last," said Jason Dieter, who led the defensive effort. "We proved we could play against a good team in a very tough building. It didn't mean much as far as the standings, but it was important for our mentality with the playoffs two weeks away."

Third-quarter goals from Branko Segota and Sasa Zoric provided the Spirit with a 10-5 lead and the defense, behind a standout effort from Dieter, did the rest.

After Brian Chandler's goal closed the gap to 10-9 with 2: 11 left, the Spirit shut down many Heat rushes, and Dieter blocked Bill Becher's shot in the final second to secure the win. Just earlier, defender Lance Johnson cleared a dangerous ball in front of Spirit goalie Joe Mallia, who finished with 14 saves.

It was the Spirit's first win in three games this season at Harrisburg and its third in 15 regular-season tries in five years.

Segota led the Spirit with two goals with Bo Vuckovic adding one goal and two assists.

Leading 6-3 at the half, the Spirit continued to set the pace in the third quarter after Larry Julius (two goals) got the Heat within 6-5. Segota took a short pass from Vuckovic to make it 8-5, and Zoric finished on a feed from Johnson to provide the Spirit with its biggest lead at 10-5.

The Heat rallied behind fourth-quarter goals from Carlso Rocha and Chandler, but Dieter and the Spirit defense had the last word.

"As a team, every time we lost the ball, we did a good job of getting back behind the ball," Dieter said. "We sacrificed our bodies and did a good job of doubling up. That makes it difficult for an offense."

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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