One of the promotions at 1st Mariner Arena this season involves the Blast's cheerleaders passing out free Snickers bars after every goal for the home team.
The cheerleaders were busy Wednesday night, and the announced crowd of 2,316 left filled up as the Blast dominated the overmatched Norfolk SharX, 26-4, in a rare mid-week game. The win clinches home-field advantage for the Blast (14-4) in the Major Indoor Soccer League's Eastern Division final with six games remaining in the regular season.
Carlos Garcia led the offense with four goals, Machel Millwood added three and one assist, and J.T. Noone had two for the Blast, which has won four straight and nine of its last 10.
"Games where you finish every opportunity are few and far between, and I thought tonight we did a great job of finishing our chances," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "It was a big win for us in terms of clinching the division as far as getting home-field advantage. … We're happy where we are, but we're not satisfied because we know there's room for improvement and there's things we can still get better at."
Nicki Paterson scored his first Blast goal, Ricardinho added four assists, and rookie goalie Akira Fitzgerald (Loyola Blakefield) finished with seven saves to improve to 3-1 in his backup role.
The expansion SharX, last in the division with a 3-16 mark, will be happy to see Baltimore in the rearview mirror. In the past 12 days, the SharX have been outscored 62-16 in three losses at 1st Mariner Arena.
Miguel Ferrer gave the SharX a quick 2-0 lead, scoring 54 seconds into the game. The Blast was even faster to respond, getting a goal nine seconds later from Shaun David to tie the game.
After that, it was all Blast. The teamwas crisp with its passes and sure on its finishes — simply better in every phase. Garcia scored three times in the first half, and five others scored as the Blast rattled off eight unanswered two-point goals to take a 16-2 lead into halftime.
Garcia's first goal — which made it 6-2 with 6:13 left in the first quarter — best summarized the Blast's sharp play. Patrick Healey won a ball in his end and sent a pass ahead to Mike Deasel, who made a strong run with the ball, beating one last defender in close before making the extra pass to Garcia for an easy tap in on the right side.
The only suspense left for the second half was whether the Blast would surpass its highest point total for the season. The Blast ended up tying its previous mark (from a 26-9 win at Rochester on Nov. 26). The 22-point margin of victory was the largest for the Blast this season.
Despite clinching the division so early, Kelly wants to make sure his team doesn't let up.
"We just got to keep being consistent with what we're doing," he said. "Six games left, we can't take our foot off the petal because the moment you relax is the moment you start going downhill."