Blast slips by Blizzard, 9-8, in opener of playoff series

Hileman, defense lead way in win over Buffalo

Soccer

April 08, 2001|By Dan Hickling | Dan Hickling,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BUFFALO, N.Y. - There were few thrills and chills and, at times, it was downright dull - defensive battles often are.

But, it's still better to win games than lose them, so the Blast couldn't be unhappy with last night's 9-8 victory over the Buffalo Blizzard in the opener of the teams' best-of-three American Conference semifinal series.

The second game will be Friday night at Baltimore Arena.

In taking away the home-floor advantage, the Blast did what it hadn't done well during the regular season, namely find a way to beat the Blizzard.

Despite owning the top offense in the NPSL, the Blast had lost five of the seven meetings between the clubs.

Last night, it set aside that high-powered attack and, instead, put the clamps on Buffalo's.

"We played good defense," said Blast coach Kevin Healey, "and we got some big performances, especially from [goalie] Scott Hileman and Lance Johnson."

Hileman (18 saves) handled all the routine shots, and made some eye-popping ones, too.

Johnson, working hard at both ends of the floor, accounted for one goal and assisted on another during the third quarter, when the Blast took control.

The most excitement came in the fourth quarter after the visitors saw a 9-2 lead fade to one point.

Both teams appeared listless from the beginning, and that carried through the first half, which ended with the teams tied at 2.

"It was great defense," said Johnson, "but teams are going to tighten up in the playoffs."

Andrew Crawford gave Buffalo the lead at 4:27 of the first quarter after a defensive lapse left him uncovered in the high slot. Doug Miller sent out a pass from the left boards, and Crawford sent it home off Hileman's hand.

The Blast's only serious scoring chance of the period came off the foot of Mark Thomas, a bicycle kick from the edge of the crease that was collared by Blizzard goalie Brian Finnerty.

Danny Kelly tied the game at 8:13 of the second period, following a setup by Tarik Walker, who squibbed the ball off the end boards to Kelly, who scored on a wide-open 15-footer.

The Blast had two quality scoring chances the rest of the half, one of which was Giuliano Celenza's sharp drive from the right wing, which Finnerty was able to fist away.

Baltimore had a three-on-one break in the final minutes of the period, but failed to convert it when Walker's shot was whisked away by Blizzard defender Matt Caution.

The Blast got a big break at the 40-second mark of the third quarter when Finnerty came out of the penalty area to clear the ball upfield. Instead, the ball was met at midfield by Paul Wright, who headed it in, giving the visitors a 5-2 lead.

"He was trying to hit Danny Barber in the middle," said Wright, "and I was tight on him. I saw Finnerty playing the ball and he directed it right to my head, so I just tried to put it on goal. I just had to stand there and redirect it."

The ball rolled slowly over the goal line, just ahead of Finnerty's attempt to retrieve it.

Blast 0 2 7 0 - 9

Buffalo 2 0 2 4 - 8

First period: 1. Buf, Crawford 2-pt (Miller) 4:27. Penalties: None.

Second period: 2. Blast, Kelly 2-pt (Walker) 8:13. Penalties: None.

Third period: 3. Blast, Wright 3-pt (unassisted) :40; 4. Blast, Johnson 2-pt (Thomas) 8:04; 5. Blast, Celenza 2-pt (Johnson) 11:40; 6. Buf, Leonard, 2-pt (Pikuzinski) 12:55. Penalties: None.

Fourth period: 7. Buf, Little 2-pt (Hesch), 4:52; 8. Buf, Titus 2-pt (Barber) 10:57. Penalties: None.

Goalies: Blast, Hileman 18 saves; Buf, Finnerty 13 saves, Hesch 0 saves.. Shots on goal: Blast, 8-4-10-2--24; Buf 8-7-7-8-30. Att: 3,566.

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