Goalies help keep Blast rolling toward finals

Phillips gets start tonight in East title game in Philly

Soccer

April 03, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Throughout the second half of the season, when the Blast went from being iffy in terms of making the playoffs to now being within one game of the Major Indoor Soccer League finals, goalkeepers Scott Hileman and Brett Phillips have played their own version of Match Game.

Effectively rotating on a game-by-game basis, the two veterans have produced one quality start after another with their unselfish and stellar work playing an integral part in the team's success.

Hileman gobbled up everything early on Friday in Cleveland, setting the tone for a 17-save performance that led to a 16-13 opening-round win over the Force.

Tonight, Phillips has his chance with the Blast in Philadelphia to take on the defending league champion KiXX in the league's Eastern Conference final.

"You can't underestimate what they've done for this team. We're in the conference final right now, and both of their contributions have been huge," said Blast coach Bobby McAvan. "They're both experienced goalkeepers, and they're drawing inspiration from each other's performance. I felt they'd both be challenged as professionals, and they've responded brilliantly."

Going into the season, Hileman had been the Blast's No. 1 goalkeeper the past three years, starting 38 or more games in each of those seasons, and he liked it that way.

But management believed two experienced goalkeepers would be a benefit for the seven-month season, so Phillips, who had a brief stint in Baltimore in 1998-99, was selected by the Blast in the St. Louis Steamers' dispersal draft and signed in October.

With a team-first view, the two have made things work in much of the same manner Scott Manning and Keith Van Eron gave the Blast a one-two punch in the franchise's mid-1980s glory days.

"The key to any situation is you have to make the best of it," said Hileman, who is 11-11 with a 10.29 points-against average. "It was management's decision and something I had to deal with, accept, and I think it's been good because I think I've improved my game and Brett is playing great. It's been the best thing for the team."

Hileman is laid back. Phillips is more vocal. Both are extremely competitive and have had the angles covered with the Blast going 13-5 in the season's second half.

"We're just fortunate to have two guys [who] can win us games," said Blast defender Billy Nelson. "They both have been playing unbelievable -- making great saves to keep us in games -- and we feed off of their confidence."

Having not played in two weeks, Phillips is rested and raring to go. One concern may be not being game sharp, but he was quick to counter that thought.

"Going into a playoff game, you're ready to go from the start, anyway. I love playing on the road in the playoffs, because I can feed off their fans," said Phillips, who got the win in the Blast's 12-7 victory in Philadelphia on Feb. 26. "Regardless, Scott and I can have a month off between games, and the playoffs are here and it's time to play."

MISL playoffs

Eastern Conference one-game final

Blast at Philadelphia

When: Tonight, 7:05

Where: First Union Spectrum (Philadelphia)

Radio: 1300 AM

Outlook: In its 16-13 opening-round playoff win at Cleveland on Friday, the Blast took the Force crowd out of the game early with three fast goals. The team wants to do the same tonight in Philadelphia, hoping to catch the defending league champion KiXX rusty after a 12-day layoff. The Blast has to pressure up front, get traffic in the box to distract KiXX All-Star keeper Peter Pappas (19-8, 9.93 points-against) and finish its scoring chances. All-Star midfielder Denison Cabral (77 points) and target forward Tarik Walker (64) are providing steady scoring for the Blast at just the right time. The KiXX is deep, physical, and eight players provided 40-plus points. Blast coach Bobby McAvan said his team has to match the KiXX's work rate and mark tightly. The KiXX, 16-2 at home this season, won the regular-season series, 4-2, but the Blast won the last meeting, 12-7, in Philadelphia on Feb. 26.

MISL Playoffs

Conference semifinals

Western

Yesterday San Diego at Kansas City

Conference finals

Eastern

Today

Blast at Philadelphia, 7:05 p.m.

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