The Harrisburg Heat appears to have the Spirit's number. Still.
Baltimore's I-83 rival took a 1-0 lead in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division semifinals with a 17-4 win last night before 4,814 at the Baltimore Arena.
Game 2 in the best-of-three series is tonight at 7:05 in Harrisburg's State Farm Show Arena. If the Heat doesn't wrap it up, the third game will be played tomorrow night in Harrisburg.
For Harrisburg, the victory was the fifth straight without a loss in three years of playoff matches against the Spirit. The Heat eliminated the Spirit each of the previous two seasons by sweeping the first two games of the series.
It is a troubling thought for the Spirit as it enters tonight's game that it has dropped seven straight on the road, and is 2-9 lifetime at Harrisburg. Overall, the Spirit has dropped six in a row, including five at the end of the regular season.
Even having Franklin McIntosh was of no avail. McIntosh had been hard on the Spirit the previous two playoffs when he was with Harrisburg. In four regular season games against Harrisburg since arriving in Baltimore in December, McIntosh scored a team-high 22 points and the Spirit won three of the four.
But last night, McIntosh, guarded most of the evening by Richard Chinapoo, was held to a single assist.
After Tim Wittman scored the only goal of the third quarter to pare Harrisburg's lead to 6-4, the Heat erupted for 11 fourth-quarter points while blanking the Spirit.
"By the fourth period," said Harrisburg coach Jim Pollihan, "you could tell by their faces that it wasn't going to be their night and that it was time to focus on the next game."
The key goal was a two-pointer by David Bascome that made it 8-4, Harrisburg, 2:21 into the fourth quarter. It nullified the boost provided by Wittman's goal -- the only one in the third quarter -- that had brought the Spirit within two points.
"We got the adrenalin shot with Tim's goal and then Bascome's was like sticking a needle in a balloon," Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams said. "We seemed to lose it after that. We didn't play smart. Heads dropped a bit."
Harrisburg's stifling defense restricted the Spirit to four points, matching the Baltimore season low.
"They were all over our guys and won the individual battles," MacWilliams said. "It frustrated us."
To the Spirit's Jason Dieter, the most crushing Harrisburg goal was by Mark Pulisic, making it 10-4 with eight minutes left.
"That was it -- we went into a shell," Dieter said. "I don't know if it was so much quit as it was we just didn't take good shots and make things happen in the last quarter."
MacWilliams isn't sure what to expect from his team tonight.
"If they have anything left in the way of character and pride, they'll come to play," MacWilliams said. "They've got to come out scratching and fighting."
NOTES: The Spirit dedicated last night's game to Charlie Eckman, the former sportscaster who is battling cancer. . . . Wittman (pulled calf muscle) and Dieter (bruised big toe) played despite their injuries. . . . If the Spirit beats Harrisburg and draws Cleveland in the division finals, the opener of that best-of-five series will be Saturday at 7:05 at the Baltimore Arena, with the next two April 10 and 12 in Cleveland and, if necessary, the fourth here April 14 and fifth on the 15th in Cleveland. If it's Baltimore-Buffalo, the first two games will be Saturday and Monday here, the third and fourth April 12 and 14 in Buffalo and the fifth April 15 here. . . . Tonight's game will be televised on a tape-delayed basis tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. by Home Team Sports. . . . The Spirit's Barry Stitz has played in 77 straight games, dating to Nov. 19, 1993. The club record is 80 by the departed Eric Dade.
Harrisburg .. ..2 .. .4 ..0 ..11 ..-- ..17
Baltimore .. ...2 .. .0 ..2 ...0 ..-- ...4