Undermanned Blast swept

Injury-bitten club ousted by Crunch, 25-22, despite `heart of a champion'

April 17, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Blast coach Kevin Healey expressed but two regrets after his team's 25-22 loss yesterday, which eliminated the Blast, two games to none, from the National Professional Soccer League American Conference finals.

The first, of course, would be to reverse the outcome of the game, and the second was that it was not played at the Baltimore Arena.

Healey wanted his hometown fans to see the effort the Blast put forth despite being outmanned because of injuries and circumstances.

So the coach was still upbeat after his team was swept out of the best-of-three series before 4,785 at the CSU Convocation Center.

The Crunch will move on to face Milwaukee in the NPSL finals.

"We were missing a lot of players and obviously that hurt us," Healey said. "But we had the heart of a champion today. Every time it looked like it might be over, we kept playing."

The Blast was virtually injury-free all season. But in its biggest game, the Blast played without defender Derrick Marcano, who sprained his ankle in Friday night's loss to Cleveland. Shane Dougherty was out with a concussion suffered Friday, and forward Erik Rasmussen had to fly back to Denmark Saturday to be with his pregnant wife.

Then, the Blast lost Mark Thomas at 8: 32 of the third quarter with a right ankle injury. This came after losing Barry Stitz earlier in the game with a knee injury.

The Blast entered the fourth quarter trailing 15-14, and found itself down by three more 49 seconds into the period.

Crunch forward Hector Marinaro, who had been quiet after scoring six goals in Friday's game, put home his first goal of the night just outside the three-point line.

With momentum on the Crunch side and without Thomas -- who may have been the team's best scoring threat -- Tarik Walker answered Marinaro's goal less than three minutes later to close the lead to 18-16.

It was Walker's fifth goal of the game in a performance that was as dominating as Marinaro's Friday.

"Goals can come from anywhere on our team," Walker said. "It is just that tonight was an opportunistic night for me. I got myself in some good positions to where I can score some."

Blast defender Lance Johnson tied the game at 18 with 3 1/2 minutes gone in the period, but Marinaro put his team up for good this time with a two-point goal.

Crunch forward Oscar Draguicevich put the Crunch on top by four again with his second goal of the evening with just under five minutes left in regulation.

Healey decided to pull goalkeeper Scott Hileman about 30 seconds later and go with Paul Wright, who, along with Walker, was double-shifting all night because of the injuries. But Crunch defender John Ball gained possession of the ball and sent a shot from three-quarters of the field into the net for a 25-18 lead.

The Blast scored back-to-back two-point goals, but was unable to get a good three-point shot on goal in the final 45 seconds.

"We've always thought we could beat this team," Johnson said. "We still think we can beat this team. That is in each and every one of us, and that has never died."

NOTE: Blast defender Ronnie Simmons, 35, decided to retire.

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