Blast's 12-8 loss forces a 3rd game

KiXX extends series via patience, defense

Soccer

April 29, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Its first NPSL championship appearance within reach, the Blast was forced to take a step back last night.

The Philadelphia KiXX got in the way of just about everything in front of 2,271 at First Union Center, avoiding elimination in the American Conference finals and, at the same time, providing the Blast with its first taste of playoff adversity.

With veterans Goran Hunjak and Kevin Sloan taking care of the offensive needs and with a collective effort on defense, the KiXX came away with a 12-8 win to force a third and deciding game for the American Conference championship tonight at Baltimore Arena.

Starting time will be 6:05.

The winner will advance to the league finals against defending champion Milwaukee, which advanced with a two-game sweep of Toronto in the National Conference finals. The championship series will start Wednesday in Milwaukee.

After sweeping Buffalo in the opening round and taking the first game from the KiXX in this series - a 23-19 win in Baltimore last Saturday - the Blast left a loser last night for the first time this postseason.

"We're the last team to lose in the playoffs, but that doesn't win you a championship. The last team to win wins the championship and that's our goal," said Blast coach Kevin Healey.

"So, OK, we lost one game. The key is to win seven - that's what we've got written on our board - so we've got to win No. 4 first. We go back home. We earned that in the regular season to have that game at home and we're looking forward to it."

Trailing 11-2 well into the third quarter, the Blast's attack woke up with consecutive two-point goals from Lance Johnson, Mark Thomas and Denison Cabral.

Trailing by only 11-8 to start the fourth didn't seem all that bad, but the KiXX sat back, spread it out and put a blanket over the Blast the rest of the way.

"We felt like we had the momentum and things were going our way. They backed off a little bit and when you score some goals, it gives you a mental boost," said Johnson. "So we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, but I think we just ran out of time."

Tonight, it's all or nothing.

Though having qualified for postseason play seven of the franchise's nine years, Baltimore has never won a deciding game in the postseason - losing a third game to Harrisburg in the 1995 playoffs and a decider to Cleveland in 1997.

The Blast swept Philadelphia, 2-0, in last year's opening round.

"They played with their backs against the wall and came out with the intensity tonight," said Johnson. "We didn't match it. "[Tonight] we're both in that situation so I expect us to match it."

Hunjak and Sloan both finished with two two-point goals and a one-pointer for the KiXX. The Blast, which attacked the KiXX's defense in every manner in the opener, failed to capitalize on restarts and fast-break chances throughout last night's game.

Unlike the series opener, when the Blast took an 11-0 lead into the second half, last night's first half was clearly played at Philadelphia's pace and the reward was a 7-2 lead for the KiXX at the break.

"We didn't do anything different," said KiXX player-coach Omid Namazi. "We just had to play with a little more intensity, put the pressure on them and take away their restart chances."

The KiXX, which finished with a league-leading 11.2 goals-against in the regular season, limited the Blast to just 12 shots by finding its marks earlier and having better coverage on restarts.

The storm the Blast expected at the start from a KiXX team playing for its life never came.

Instead, the home team played deliberately and gradually built a 5-0 lead through the first quarter before the Blast broke through late.

The KiXX took advantage of some poor coverage from the Blast defenders right in front of keeper Scott Hileman along with a mental lapse to take the 5-0 lead.

Hunjak and Sloan both had time to settle and finish off wall passes in close for two-point goals and Hunjak added a shootout goal in between when the Blast got caught with too many players on the field.

The Blast made it 5-2 with a goal in transition from Tarik Walker, who finished off a shot from Giuliano Celenza that caromed in front.

Sloan provided the only points in the second quarter - a power-play goal on an assist from Namazi midway through for the 7-2 halftime lead.

Blast 2 0 6 0 - 8

Philadelphia 5 2 4 1 - 12

First quarter: 1. Philadelphia, Hunjak, 2 pt., (Colasante), 3:29; 2. Philadelphia, Hunjak, 1 pt., 9:01; 3. Philadelphia, Sloan, 2 pt., (D'Ambra), 10:56; 4. Blast, Walker, 2 pt., (Celenza, 11:18; . Penalties: Blast, bench, (toomany men), 9:01. Second quarter: 5. Philadelphia, Sloan, 2 pt., (Namazi), 7:25. Penalties: Blast,Clarke, (holding), 6:54. Third quarter: 6. Philadelpia, Hunjak, 2 pt., (Henderson), 3:33; 7. Philadelphia, 7. Sloan, 2 pt., (D'Ambra), 6:43; 8. Blast, Johnson, 2 pt., (Walker), 10:19; 9. Blast, Thomas, 2 pt., (Vaudreuil), 11:48; 10. Blast, Cabral, 2 pt., (Tschantret), 14:47. Penalties: Philadelphia, D'Ambra, (holding) 13:47. Fourth quarter: 12. Philadelphia, Sloan, 1 pt., 10:52. Penalties: Blast, Tschantret, (holding) 10:52. Shots on goal: Blast 7-5-14-5 - 31; Philadelphia 13-11-7-8 - 39. Power-play opportunities: Blast 0-for-1; Philadelphia 1-for-2. Goalkeepers: Blast, Hileman, 25 shots, 18 saves; Philadelphia, Pappas, 19 shots,15 saves. A - 2,271.

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