East champion Blast has eyes on the prize

NPSL notebook

Soccer

March 31, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Blast coach Kevin Healey said he should not have to do a whole lot to keep his team focused for tonight's regular-season home finale against Buffalo at 7: 35 at Baltimore Arena.

That should be taken care of before the game, when National Professional Soccer League commissioner Steve Paxos presents the Blast with the East Division title trophy.

It will be a taste of what Healey hopes will be another presentation by the same man with an NPSL title trophy at the end of the season.

"I think the biggest thing is -- and guys who have won the championship before, like Paul [Wright] and Tarik [Walker] know -- to stay in a good rhythm right now," Healey said. "If you look at other sports teams, they want to win that last game going into the playoffs. We are playing well at home, and if we continue to do that, that will give us confidence going into the playoffs."

The Blast (25-17) will face a Blizzard (18-23) team that was recently eliminated from playoff contention. The Blast needs two Cleveland losses and a sweep of these last two games to get the top spot in the conference.

"We still have a chance to get home field in the conference over Cleveland, so that is definitely in the back of our minds," Blast forward Mark Thomas said. "But we want to come together as a team and continue to play well going into the playoffs."

As it stands, the Blast will play host to Philadelphia or Montreal in the second game of the first round of the playoffs next Saturday at 7: 35 p.m. The deciding Game 3 would be Monday night at 7 in Baltimore if necessary, while the first game would probably be Friday at the opposing team's site.

As for tonight's game, the Blizzard enters having won the previous contest in Buffalo, 11-8. The teams have split four games this season.

"This one is for the fans," Healey said. "It is Fan Appreciation Night. We want to reward the fans with a good effort. We feel everybody is getting excited about the team, coming out in bigger numbers."

Honoring Stitz

The Blast will honor retiring midfielder Barry Stitz before tonight's game.

Stitz has 41 points and 20 blocks in his eighth season in Baltimore. Stitz will finish his career first in number of games, two-point goals (113) and power-play goals (16) for the Baltimore franchise.

"I guess it is really starting to set in now that the end is near," said Stitz, who will become the varsity soccer coach at Archbishop Curley, his alma mater.

Talking playoffs

Milwaukee and Kansas City have wrapped up the top two seeds in the National Conference. Edmonton and Wichita have secured the other two slots.

The Wave owns the top spot in the league and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

American Conference leader Cleveland appears to be peaking heading into the playoffs, winning six straight and nine of its past 10.

The Crunch became only the second team this season to beat the Wave in Milwaukee, with a 7-6 win last Saturday.

Cabral injured

Blast midfielder Denison Cabral will miss this weekend's games because of a sore hamstring.

Cabral is not expected to miss any playoff games.

Blast tonight

Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 35

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: This is the final regular-season home game for the Blast. The team will travel to Wichita tomorrow before the playoffs start next week. Blast midfielder Barry Stitz will be honored before the game, and the team will get its East Division title trophy.

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