Crunch rocks Spirit, 21-9, to force 3rd game Schmetzer, Marinaro lead Cleveland with 3 goals each

April 14, 1997|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

The Spirit's National Professional Soccer League playoff series against the Cleveland Crunch has taken a 180-degree turn.

The Crunch defeated the Spirit, 21-9, last night before 3,907 at Baltimore Arena to tie the American Conference semifinal series at 1, setting up the deciding game tonight in Cleveland. The winner will meet the Harrisburg Heat for the conference championship, a best-of-five series starting later this week, dates to be determined. Harrisburg eliminated the Cincinnati Silverbacks in the semis.

Although the Spirit handled the Crunch in the opener Friday night, the Crunch has the clear advantage now. Cleveland is the defending champion, the team with the best regular-season record (29-11) and is the league regular-season scoring champion with 772 points. And it is back in the arena where it was 18-2 this season.

Cleveland coach Bruce Miller was right on the money with this comment: "If we play as good as we can, and Baltimore plays as good as it can, we're a little better."

On Friday night the Crunch didn't play as well as it can, showing lethargy and rust from a two-week layoff after getting a first-round bye as division champion. Last night it did play as well as it can.

Spirit player-coach Mike Stankovic was not caught by surprise.

"This could be a long night," he said before the game. "We had some luck Friday, their shots hitting posts, things bouncing our way a bit. A couple of inches and they'd have had a few more goals."

Stankovic summed up the difference between Friday and last night in a few words: "We had plenty of chances [40 shots], but our finishing wasn't there. They finished most of theirs. I said it would be tough."

For the first time in 25 games between the teams in five seasons, the Crunch scored 20 points. Cleveland averaged 19.3 this season.

Cleveland was led by Andy Schmetzer and Hector Marinaro (three goals apiece) and Henry Gutierrez (two). Branko Segota scored two for the Spirit.

The first half was marked by glares and chest-bumping as well as scoring. The feisty Zoran Karic, who forms Cleveland's one-two scoring punch with Marinaro, received boarding and five-minute misconduct penalties after banging into the Spirit's Ronnie Simmons.

The Crunch took a 7-0 lead on two goals by Schmetzer and one by Marinaro. The Spirit came back with four points in the second quarter, the first two in a short-handed situation on a dandy Segota-to-Stankovic-to-Doug Neely play.

NOTES: The Spirit's Jason Dieter sat out with a torn knee ligament. Rookie Sasa Zoric played despite a tender Achilles' tendon. Counting assists as well as goals, Marinaro and Karic have accounted for more than half (2,937) of the Crunch's 5,647 regular-season points in its eight-year history. The Spirit's Todd Hicks (out with an injured knee) and Cleveland's Mark Jonas (who did not make the trip) were teammates at Bowie High when it won back-to-back state Class 4A championships.

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Crunch

Site: Cleveland State Convocation Center, Cleveland

Time: 7: 35

Radio: WITH (1230 AM)

What: Game 3 of best-of-three NPSL American Conference semifinals. Teams are tied, 1-1.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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