Blast storms to win, 18-13

Wright's big night helps top Blizzard

KiXX next in line

Soccer

April 14, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Leaving nothing to chance, the Blast made quick work of a pesky but overmatched Buffalo team last night at Baltimore Arena, impressively completing a two-game sweep to move forward to the American Conference final.

Forcing the issue at every turn, the Blast left the Blizzard with few openings while taking whatever space it wanted in an energized 18-13 win in front of 3,756 that has the team preparing for Philadelphia.

The KiXX, which swept Harrisburg in the conference's other first-round series, will visit the Blast at Baltimore Arena next weekend to open the best-of-three conference championship series. A date and time has yet to be determined.

Midfielder Paul Wright, solid throughout the regular season and dominating in its second half, led the Blast's attack last night with two two-point goals and three assists for seven points.

Dension Cabral recorded his 11th hat trick of the season and rookie Giuliano Celenza added two goals - including his second straight game-winner and fifth of the season.

The Blast had one of two choices last night: revert to its form of the second half of the season, when lapses proved costly, or go back even farther - to the very beginning - when confidence overcame all obstacles in a 7-0 start.

Fortunately for the home team, it chose the latter and can now start thinking about the KiXX.

"It's a whole different ballgame now," said Cabral. "We played Philly a lot of times and we know how to play them and they know how to play us. It's going to be another step we have to go up and we're ready for it."

You couldn't have asked for a better start last night for the Blast, which got an opening goal from Cabral just 54 seconds in before Wright made the rest of the first half his showcase.

He first won a ball at midfield and shot past two defenders before finishing high past Buffalo keeper Bryan Finnerty to give the Blast a 4-0 lead with 10:52 left in the first quarter.

Less than three minutes later, Wright collected a ball in his defensive third and moved along the left boards, using a wall pass to himself to get past the final defender.

He also assisted on goals by Celenza and Tarik Walker to supply a 10-2 halftime lead that would never be seriously challenged.

"We wanted to take the game to them early and show them that we were here to play," said Blast coach Kevin Healey.

"I think we had a high intensity level early in the game and on top of that we executed offensively to get a lead. That's how we diagrammed it and we were fortunate it did happen that way."

The Blizzard simply couldn't keep up with the explosive Wright or match the Blast's overall talent.

"We could see in warmups they showed a lot of intensity and we knew we had to match it. I think with me personally, they had trouble keeping up with my speed," said Wright.

Healey agreed.

"He's just so explosive right now - on top of his game. He's scoring goals coming out of the back with explosive speed and he showed great finishing and great passing skills as well as defense. He said all year he's waiting for the playoffs and so far he's living up to it."

Defensively, the aim for the Blast throughout the series was to shut down midfielder Danny Barber and forward Doug Miller, who were the primary reasons the Blizzard took five of seven in the regular season.

Collectively, the Blast got it done, with Barber and Miller combining for just 11 harmless points in the two games - six in a fourth-quarter frenzy last night that was too late.

The Blizzard, which never showed any quit in a season that saw it go from the conference basement to second place, came with a third-quarter push and another one late, but the Blast had the answers.

Celenza and Cabral gave the Blast a cushion at the start of the fourth quarter and, after the Blizzard cut the lead to 16-11 on Barber's three-pointer with an extra attacker on, Danny Kelly quickly made it 18-11 before Barber closed the scoring.

To no one's surprise, Cabral, with his parents visiting from Brazil for the first time this season, came up with something special. He celebrated his second goal with his traditional backflip before climbing the dasherboards - right in front of his parents' seats - after his third goal.

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