CLEVELAND -- Balanced scoring is a must in the Major Indoor Soccer League, and it was key throughout the Blast's surge into the playoffs.
But it's still necessary to have a go-to player when goals are needed and games are decided.
All-Star midfielder Denison Cabral says that's his job. In last night's one-game Eastern Conference semifinal against the host Force, it was a job well-done.
Cabral put two away in the decisive fourth quarter -- a momentum-swinging go-ahead goal and then the eventual game-winner -- leading the Blast to a 16-13 win and a trip to the Eastern final before 7,332 at the Convocation Center.
The Blast, which finished the regular season at 18-18, will travel to Philadelphia on Thursday to face the defending league champion KiXX in a one-game playoff for the right to play in the league championship.
"The belief factor was there for us -- we never gave up and now, here we are, in the conference final from a team that was 5-12 at one stage," Blast coach Bobby McAvan said.
Early in the season, it would have been safe to assume the Blast would have wilted after the Force scored seven straight points in the third quarter to take an 11-10 lead into the final 15 minutes.
Last night, the visitors were comfortable in that spot and Cabral was plenty cozy right in front -- scoring on a rebound off a hard, well-placed shot from defender Lance Johnson and then providing a 14-11 lead less than two minutes later.
"I saw how well [keeper] Scott Hileman and the defense played in the first half and felt like I had to step up and do my job. They expect it from me," Cabral said. "I knew we couldn't try to be too pretty, and I promised myself I would get in the box and get some garbage. We played well and nobody panicked."
Anxious moments remained after the Force, which came into the game 16-0 taking a lead into the fourth quarter this season, closed to within 14-13 with 2:52 left. But Blast defender Sean Bowers provided the finishing touch with an open-net goal with 15 seconds left.
Hileman had 17 saves; Cabral and rookie P.J. Wakefield each had two goals, and Tarik Walker was again a big presence with one goal and one assist. Johnson, who turned 32 yesterday, isn't ready to retire just yet. Last night's fourth-quarter effort was proof.
"It was gut-check time," he said. "Sean said we're down one on the road in the fourth quarter. We'll take it -- this is what it's all about. We all came together and got the job done."
The Blast took the crowd out of the game early, taking a 6-0 lead on two-point goals by Danny Kelly, Allen Eller and Wakefield. Cleveland didn't score until its 15th shot, with 12:14 left until the half and trailed 8-4 at the break.
NOTES: About 30 members of the Blast Fan Club made the six-hour trip to Cleveland via bus for last night's game. ... The Blast finished the regular season third in the MISL in home attendance with 100,070 fans walking through the 1st Mariner Arena turnstiles in 18 games for a 5,559 average. ... Cabral led the Blast in scoring for a third straight season with 71 points, finishing 12th in the league.
Blast 6 2 2 6 -- 16
Cleveland 0 4 7 2 -- 13
First quarter: 1. Blast, Kelly, 2 pt., (Walker), 7:54; 2. Blast, Eller, 2 pt., (Dieter), 12:23; 3. Blast, Wakefield, 2 pt., (Bowers), 13:48. Penalties: none.
Second quarter: 4. Cleveland, Butcher, 2 pt., (Oliviero), 2:46; 5. Blast, Wakefield, 2 pt., (Tschantret), 10:48; 6. Cleveland, Ball, 2 pt., (Karic), 11:37. Penalties: Cleveland, Couch, (boarding) 14:15; Cleveland, bench (five-minute misconduct), 15:00.
Third quarter: 7. Blast, Walker, 2 pt., (Bowers), 4:02; 8. Cleveland, Butcher, 2 pt., (Schulte), 5:44; 9. Cleveland, Pizzolitto, 2 pt., (Karic), 8:45; 10. Cleveland, Ball, 3 pt., (Butcher), 9:14. Penalties: Blast, Regis (elbowing), 11:23; Blast, Bader, (tripping), 14:23.
Fourth quarter: 11. Blast, Cabral, 2 pt., (Johnson), 4:32; 12. Blast, Cabral, 2 pt., (Tschantret), 6:46; 13. Cleveland, Edgerton, 2 pt., (Stathopolous), 12:08; 14. Blast, Bowers, 2 pt., 14:45. Penalties: Blast, bench (five-minute misconduct), 14:45.
Shots on goal: Blast 8-6-11-12 -- 34; Cleveland 12-8-8-8 -- 39. Power-play opportunities: Blast 0-for-1; Cleveland 0-for-2. Goalkeepers: Blast, Hileman, 23 shots, 17 saves; Cleveland, Larkin, 24 shots, 17 saves, Ball, 1 shots, 0 saves. A: 7,332.