The Blast has provided its fans with plenty of excellent play at Royal Farms Arena this season, but little suspense.
That changed Saturday against the Rochester Lancers, who came to Baltimore determined to stifle a team that was undefeated and had averaged 19 points in its six previous home wins.
Clinging to a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Blast got a sparkling save from goalkeeper William Vanzela and Onua Obasi's second 3-point goal of the night to secure a 15-7 win before an announced 6,942.
"We played Rochester before and we were sure they would do their homework and know our strengths, so I guess in the second game, they were better prepared, so it was no surprise it was a closer game," Obasi said. "They gave us a test, and that builds out character for the tougher games we'll see."
The Blast (13-0) moved six games in front of the second-place Syracuse Silver Knights in the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division. Another win, a loss by the Silver Knights, will clinch the division for the Blast, which has seven games left in the regular season and travels to Las Vegas to take on the Legends on Feb. 6.
On Dec. 27, the Blast came away with a comfortable 19-8 road win over the Lancers, but Saturday proved much more difficult.
The Blast seemed to finally pull away when Tony Donatelli made it 9-2 with 10:04 to play. But the Lancers answered with a goal from Joey Tavernese less than a minute later, and Andrew Hoxie scored his second goal of the game, a three-pointer, to cut their deficit to 9-7 with 6:01 left.
Enter Obasi, who found time and space at the top of the circle before unleashing a high shot to the left corner of the goal for a 12-7 lead with 4:00 to play. Just before the score, Vanzela made a diving save to his left as he turned away a shot from Gary Broughton.
Donatelli iced the win with a three-point goal as the Lancers played with an extra attacker in the final minute.
The Blast found itself in rare territory early, scoreless and trailing after the first quarter. Rochester's Andrew Hoxie gave Rochester a 2-0 lead entering the second quarter.
The Blast's scoring drought ended early in the second quarter, when Max Ferdinand tied the game at 2 on a shootout goal after Rochester's Jayme Kapinos was called for a hand-ball violation. Pat Healey gave the Blast its first lead, 4-2, when he finished off a pass from Ferdinand with 6:45 remaining.
The Blast had to protect its two-point lead for most of the third quarter, but did so in attack mode. Rochester goalie Joe Kapinos made sparkling saves on shots from Ferdinand and Vini Dantas before the Blast finally found some breathing room.
Obasi, working on the right side, blasted a far-out shot that caromed off the boards and off the back of a sprawled-out Kapinos before going in for a three-point goal. Donatelli pushed the lead to 9-2 with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter before the Lancers rallied.
"At times, I was disappointed because we didn't play smart," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "We held on to the ball too many times, gave them odd-man rushes, our movement wasn't what it was supposed to be. All in all, it was a good result in terms of getting the win and finding a way to win, but for us to be a championship contender, we have to be a whole lot better than we were tonight."