Blast shows power out of gate, holds off KiXX for 23-19 win

Conference series lead reward for goal binge

Soccer

April 22, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Seemingly invincible in the first two quarters, vulnerable in the third and more than reassuring in the end.

The Blast enjoyed its finest half of the season before withstanding a third-quarter push from the visiting Philadelphia KiXX last night, coming away with a 23-19 win in the opener of the NPSL's American Conference finals at Baltimore Arena.

A crowd of 4,132 saw a little bit of everything from the home team: stellar play in goal from Scott Hileman in the first half that led to an 11-0 lead; a third-quarter breakdown that gave the KiXX life, getting the visitors to within 16-12 at one point; more goals than expected, and, most importantly, a win.

The game ended with an altercation between a fan and Kixx coach/defender Omid Namazi in the final seconds. Namazi was in the KiXX goal as a sixth attacker when the fan reached inside the net and grabbed his jersey. Namazi apparently retaliated with a punch.

The Blast moved within one win of advancing to the first championship series in the franchise's nine-year history. The best-of-three series will resume in Philadelphia with a date yet to be announced.

"It almost summed up the season," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "We looked great, then we had some let-ups and, in the fourth quarter - I said before the playoffs that every time there was a game during the season we needed, we stepped up. The fourth quarter tonight was that part of the season."

"Now we know we have to play another game and it's going to be hard fought. But we're one game away from the NPSL finals and we'll work hard to try to win that game."

The KiXX came in with the regular season's tightest defense (11.2 points against); the NPSL's co-Goalkeeper of the Year, Peter Pappas, and the league's Defender of the Year in Namazi, but the Blast (league-high 14.7 points per game) answered with more than enough firepower.

The 23 points the Blast registered last night were the most allowed by the KiXX all season.

Blast forward Tarik Walker finished with eight points - four two-pointers - and midfielder Danny Kelly added three two-pointers and an assist for seven points.

Their back-to-back two-point goals - Walker's fourth in the final minute of the third quarter and Kelly's third just 17 seconds into the fourth - gave the Blast a 20-12 lead - the necessary cushion.

"Philly pretty much kept me in check during the regular season, so I knew I had to come out in this playoff series and do something," said Walker. "We needed some points for sure. We knew they wouldn't roll over, so we were just thinking to get back to our game."

Keeper Scott Hileman finished with 31 saves - nine in a stellar first quarter and 12 in blanking the KiXX in the first 30 minutes.

As efficient and productive the Blast was in building an 11-0 lead at the half, it was the opposite in a third quarter in which the KiXX climbed back with 12 points.

"It's indoor soccer - no leads are insurmountable," said Kelly. "You get crazy goals all the time - deflections, three-pointers. So you really can't relax at all. You have to play 60 minutes non-stop every shift.

"For a while, whether we relaxed or let up a bit, I don't know. But when it was 16-12, it was gut-check time. This is the playoffs and it comes down to how bad you want to win."

Leading 3-0 in the first quarter, the Blast took charge in the second with goals off restarts as well as in transition for the 11-0 halftime lead that left the visitors slowly walking to the locker room with their heads down.

But they quickly raised those heads in the third quarter, with Namazi connecting on a three-pointer with 7:56 left in the period to finally solve Hileman.

Answers from Walker and Ronnie Simmons pushed the Blast lead back up to 16-3, but the KiXX scored the next nine points to cut the lead to 16-12 before Walker closed out the third quarter with a two-pointer.

In seven regular-season meetings, the Blast won four of the games.

Philadelphia 0 0 12 7 - 19

Blast 3 8 7 5 - 23

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