Blast makes it to MISL title series

Visitors defeat KiXX, 8-6, win Eastern Conference


April 04, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - For the first time in the 11-year history of the new version of the Major Indoor Soccer League, the Blast will be playing for the championship.

That was assured last night when three early goals and a standout defense carried Baltimore's entry to an 8-6 victory and the Eastern Conference title, dethroning the defending league-champion Philadelphia KiXX before 3,927 at the First Union Spectrum.

The result put perhaps the hottest team in the MISL into a three-game title series against the survivor of Sunday's one-game Western Conference showdown between Milwaukee and Kansas City.

The third-seeded Blast gained the berth by beating No. 2 Cleveland and No. 1 Philadelphia on the road after an inauspicious start to a season that included three head coaches in three months and considerable time in the conference basement.

"We were really fragmented over Christmas, but when we came back we were ready to work," said current coach Bobby McAvan, under whom the team is 15-9. "I pleaded to their pride and, when we strung three wins in a row, they started believing in themselves."

The rotating goalkeeping tandem struck again last night as Brett Phillips matched KiXX All-Star Peter Pappas save for save and even outshone him after Philadelphia applied the majority of the pressure through the second and third quarters.

"Every time we play Philadelphia, it seems like they go on a 45-minute possession of the ball," said Phillips. "But we have some momentum and when you've beaten a keeper like Pappas, you've done something."

The KiXX lost eight of their final 12 games after clinching the conference crown early and suffering some injuries that sapped their depth.

What proved the crucial goal came from Allen Eller, a mid-season addition to the Blast. Eller took a header from Lee Tschantret, split two defenders and beat Pappas for an 8-4 advantage with 2:14 remaining in the third quarter.

"I didn't even see it go in," said Eller. "I think maybe it went under someone's foot."

"That was a huge goal," said Phillips. "That gave us a little bit of breathing room in case they came back on us."

Philadelphia seemed rusty at the beginning after a 12-day layoff, and the Blast capitalized to get what McAvan desired - an early lead.

Goals by Craig Scheer, P.J. Wakefield and Denison Cabral gave the Blast a 6-0 cushion before the KiXX stepped up the heat in a game that had the odd sidelight of no penalties.

"I thought we had the energy the majority of the game," said KiXX player-coach Don D'Ambra. "But they're playing defense and getting the bounces. They've got the momentum, and they're the best team right now."

A late-season win at the Spectrum-where the KiXX went 16-2 - was a confidence booster for the Blast, according to McAvan.

"After you win a game like that, you start mentally believing you can beat an MISL champion," he said. "We felt we could go into another team's building and put on a good show."

The show is about to become a headliner for the Blast.

Blast 4 2 2 0 - 8

Philadelphia 0 2 2 2 - 6

First quarter: 1. Blast, Scheer 2 pt. (Walker), 10:14; 2. Blast, Wakefield, 2 pt. (Dieter), 12:07. Penalties: None.

Second quarter: 3. Blast, Cabral, 2 pt. (Walker), 1:12; 4. Philadelphia, Vasic, 2 pt. (McPeak), 9:41. Penalties: None.

Third quarter: 5. Philadelphia, Sloan, 2 pt. (D'Ambra), 0.37; 6. Blast, Eller, 2 pt. (Tschantret), 12:46.Penalties: None.

Fourth quarter: 7. Philadelphia, DePalma, 2 pt. (Handsor), 1:37. Penalties: None.

Shots on goal: Blast 10-7-9-8-34; Philadelphia 13-12-9-10-44. Power-play opportunities: None. Goalkeepers: Blast, Phillips, 21 shots, 18 saves; Philadelphia, Pappas, 21 shots, 17 saves. A-3,927.

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