Blast's burst breaks title barrier

Visitors ride final thrust of 9 straight points past Wave to MISL crown, 13-12


April 19, 2003|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE - With the league title on the line last night, the Blast kept believing that its season-long story was too good not to have a happy ending.

That's why there was no quit when the Blast trailed by eight points late in the third quarter against the mighty Milwaukee Wave. Not rattled, the visitors rallied with a dominating flurry, scoring the game's final nine points to come away with an improbable 13-12 victory in the third and deciding game of the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series.

Blast midfielder Denison Cabral, named the Most Valuable Player of the championship series, scored his second goal of the fourth quarter with 4:46 left, a half-volley game-winner off a set piece from Danny Kelly. Goalkeeper Brett Phillips, the next best thing to an MVP, finished with 15 saves, and a stunned crowd of 12,598 at the Bradley Center watched as his defense proved more than formidable in the closing minutes.

From rags to riches, the Blast is the champion of the MISL for the first time in this franchise's 11-year history (the Blast of the former MISL won the championship in the 1983-84 season), and who would have ever thought that after a trying first two months that included two coaching changes and a 4-9 start?

"We talked about not giving up at all - there was just no reason to do that," Cabral said. "We fought like crazy guys wanting a championship. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we did so much to get here."

The Wave, playing in the MISL finals for the fifth time in six years, looked to make amends after faltering in a third game here last season against the Philadelphia KiXX, but the Blast had its own agenda.

Blast defender Sean Bowers called it "the power of positive thinking."

With the team trailing 12-4 late in the third quarter, hope came from the foot of Billy Nelson, whose shot from the right side deflected off a Milwaukee defender and into the net for three points. That stopped a Blast scoring drought of more than 33 minutes and cut the deficit going into the fourth quarter.

"That was the turning point. That gave us some momentum, and inch by inch we started to build it back," said Phillips, who also got the win in Game 2 on Sunday in Baltimore.

Then Cabral scored on the power play. Allen Eller finished off an ideal transition goal off a feed from Lance Johnson. Then Cabral scored again.

The defense stood its ground in the final minutes, with Phillips only needing to cut off a tough-angled shot from Michael King.

All that remained was the celebration from the visitors. Phillips was mobbed in the goal. Assistant coach Timmy Wittman was throwing his sports coat as high in the air as he could. Cabral simply fell to the ground.

It was extra special for Johnson and fellow 10-year veteran Jason Dieter, who both made their last game in a Blast uniform one for the ages.

"I guess you couldn't write a better script for me," said Dieter, who assisted on the game's opening goal. "At the beginning of every year you always think about making a championship run, but for me, it was more like a 10-year effort to get to this point."

About 125 Blast fans made the trip from Baltimore, some flying, others taking the 13-hour-long bus ride and a few driving. Located above one of the goals, they started a chant, "Let's go Blast," in the first quarter that was quickly drowned out by thunderous Wave support. But it was the Blast fans that had the final chant with many of the Blast players staying on the field long after the game.

There was no settling-in process at the start. Both teams played at a crisp pace. While the Blast marked well defensively and connected early on its passes, the Wave stayed on a steadier course to build an 8-4 halftime lead that could have been more without 14 saves from Phillips.

The Blast had built a 4-0 lead with a goal in close from Nelson and a well-executed half-volley from Kelly off a wall pass from Giuliano Celenza with 4:21 left in the first quarter.

From there, the Wave took over the rest of the first half.

Michael King poked at a ball in front that squirted past Phillips with 2:13 left in the first quarter to cut the Blast lead to 4-2. And then - with a 15-3 advantage in shots in the second quarter - the Wave built its lead.

MISL finals

Blast vs. Milwaukee

(Blast wins series, 2-1) Game 1-Milwaukee 19, Blast 12

Game 2-Blast 15, Milwaukee 12

Yesterday-Blast 13, Milwaukee 12

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