14-0 collapse ends Blast's bid for finals, 16-15

Hosts' 10-2 lead at half vanishes as KiXX caps 2-game comeback

April 30, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

A season of great promise and high expectations came to an unsettling and unacceptable end for the Blast last night.

Seemingly in control and just one half away from reaching its first National Professional Soccer League championship round, the Blast - needing poise - instead showed panic in a second half that started with mystery and ended in disaster against the Philadelphia KiXX.

Rattling off 14 straight points to recover from an eight-point halftime deficit, the KiXX scored a 16-15 win over the Blast to come away with the third and deciding game of the American Conference finals in front of 2,297 at Baltimore Arena.

The Blast had firmly believed from the very first day that it was made of championship quality, and it was a confident team that came into the weekend - up one game in the best-of-three series and fully expecting to be going to Milwaukee on Wednesday for the start of the championship round.

In stunning fashion, it didn't happen.

Instead, the KiXX was afforded an opening - tying the series with a 12-8 win in Philadelphia on Saturday - and then wouldn't leave last night.

"The finality of it - we don't have a game tomorrow or for the rest of the season - it's hard to accept it's over," said Blast midfielder Paul Wright. "We definitely have the talent in this room to win a championship. We didn't get the job done and that's everybody on the team, from the first player to the last player. We win as a team and we lose as a team and we have to try to accept this."

Last night's performance was a microcosm of the Blast's season.

Starting the season with seven straight wins, the Blast later showed signs of vulnerability in the second half, losing hold of leads as well as first place in the American Conference.

Ending up in third place, the Blast still earned the home-field edge in the series against the fourth-place KiXX, but a so-so 12-8 record on its own turf didn't scare off the visitors. Neither did an early lead.

The home team tried to put its stamp on last evening's game in the second quarter, building a 10-2 advantage with energy and efficiency at both ends. But things began to unravel, unexplainably, as the teams were walking off to the locker room for the halftime break.

Between the end of the first half and the start of the second, Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman (13 saves) was called for elbowing KiXX player/coach Omid Namazi as they were leaving the field. This only made Namazi more unpopular with the Arena crowd, which was already booing him every time he touched the ball in response to his punching a fan in last week's opener.

Before any time elapsed in the third quarter, the KiXX had a shootout goal from Shawn Boney and then needed just 34 seconds to score on the ensuing power play - Kevin Sloan from Goran Hunjak - to cut the Blast lead to 10-5.

"I was running to the locker like I always do after every half. Omid stepped in front of me and I just kept running - I didn't elbow him," said Hileman.

From that point on, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for a Blast team that wore looks of disbelief after the game.

"We had our chance to finish this game and we didn't," said Blast midfielder Denison Cabral. "They had a lot of heart to pull it out in the second half. Even down 10-2 they believed they could win and they did. The last game: you lose, you're out; you win, you're in the finals. We gave away some goals we shouldn't."

Don D'Ambra scored the next seven points - the first three on a deflected clear attempt from Hileman - to give the KiXX its first lead with 9:34 left to play.

Philadelphia increased the lead to 16-10 - the eventual game-winner from Hunjak a result of another Blast defensive lapse - before the Blast had a final-minute rally, with Danny Kelly on as a sixth attacker, fall short.

Mark Thomas made it 16-12 with 1:10 left. Then Lee Tschantret scored a three-pointer that went off Namazi in front with 46 seconds left to cut the lead to 16-15, but that's how things would stay with the KiXX in possession to run off the final seconds.

"I don't know what to say. We played a great first half, we were in a great position at 10-2," said Blast coach Kevin Healey. "We gave them points - it's unbelievable how we gave them points. To lose that way - I'm speechless."

D'Ambra finished with nine points to lead the KiXX, which also got a 21-save performance from Peter Pappas.

"They came out with intensity we haven't seen all year," said Namazi. "We did what it took to win the game, but I give them a lot of credit."

Tschantret scored six points to lead the Blast with Cabral adding four. "Tomorrow is going to be a terrible day," said Cabral. "We're out already and it's going to be strange to wake up tomorrow not having to go to practice. It hurts a lot."

Added Tschantret: "It was a really weird season. Sometimes lady luck isn't on your side no matter what you do. We outplayed them the entire game, the goals they scored were atrocious. Sometimes it's just not meant to be I guess."

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