Blast enters title series on wave of confidence

Once 7-14, East champs primed to face Milwaukee

Soccer

April 11, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The veteran players have provided guidance to a willing audience. The younger guys, with fresh legs that don't stop, have supplied a constant push.

And a few newcomers have quickly identified their roles and thrived.

Stuck in the mud in the first half of the season, the Blast -- collectively -- has worked its way out with newfound confidence and steadfast purpose.

And now, after road playoff wins against the Cleveland Force and defending Major Indoor Soccer League champion Philadelphia KiXX to claim the Eastern Conference title, Baltimore's team travels to Milwaukee to take on the Western Conference champion Wave tomorrow to begin the best-of-three championship series.

The second game will take place at 6:05 p.m. Sunday at 1st Mariner Arena, with a third game, if necessary, back in Milwaukee next weekend.

Who would have thought that with three coaches in three months and a 7-14 mark just past the midway point the Blast would be making the first championship appearance in the franchise's 11 years?

"Everybody just decided, let's just all come together, play hard and let the chips fall where they may," said Blast captain Lance Johnson.

With two road wins in the regular-season's final weekend, the Blast reached the .500 mark (18-18) for the first time since October and haven't stopped winning.

Midfielder Denison Cabral, the MISL's Offensive Player of the Month for March, and Tarik Walker have been steady point producers. Timely goals have come from emerging players, such as Rookie of the Year candidate P. J. Wakefield, newcomer Allen Eller and Craig Scheer.

Veterans Danny Kelly and Sean Bowers have been stalwart in the middle and back. And the goaltending tandem of Scott Hileman and early-season addition Brett Phillips -- with plenty of support -- has been ideal for the task.

It has been a unified effort with coach Bobby McAvan, who is 16-9 since taking over on Dec. 9, providing positive re-enforcement.

"We always talk about winning your individual battles and, as a team, winning every shift -- doing all the little things together that we've done the last month and a half to come out on top," Walker said.

"The lows that we were going through wasn't because of our chemistry or character. We just weren't able to put some things together. It's a testament to the organization for putting together a good team and good group of guys that were willing to stick it out."

Johnson and fellow 10-year veteran Jason Dieter, both retiring at season's end, are looking forward to their first chance at a championship.

"There was a rush when the game was over in Philly, but you still get that sense that it's not complete yet," said Dieter, a Baltimore native. "It's almost like a third season, because now it's all on the line. One of us is going to come home with a championship ring. We still haven't achieved what we've worked on achieving."

Blast vs. Wave

What: Major Indoor Soccer League championship series

Format: Best of three

Game 1: Tomorrow, 2 p.m., Bradley Center, Milwaukee.

Game 2: Sunday, 6:05 p.m., 1st Mariner Arena.

Game 3 (if nec.): April 19, TBA, Bradley Center, Milwaukee.

Radio: All games on WJFK (1300 AM)

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