Spirit stopped cold again


HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Spirit fans in Section 23 waved signs that not only spoke of their loyalty but of their belief that their heroes would deliver.

One sign read: "The Curse Is Broken." Another read: "It's Our Turn." And a third: "Spirit -- Pride and Character." One fan held a red poster of a heart with the word "SPIRIT" in the center.

They were inspired by Tuesday's overtime win that tied the National Professional Soccer League American Division semifinal against the Harrisburg Heat at one apiece, but the Spirit couldn't take that final step.

Harrisburg built an 8-2 halftime lead and held on for a 14-6 victory last night before 3,027 at the State Farm Show Arena, thereby eliminating Baltimore for the third straight year.

Harrisburg advances to the division final against the Cleveland Crunch, which last night eliminated the Buffalo Blizzard, 19-15. That best-of-five series will start here tomorrow,

The Spirit's only consolation was that it at least made a fight of it. Harrisburg swept the first two games of the best-of-three series the previous two years, but the Spirit took the Heat to three games this time. After the Spirit overcame a 14-7 deficit to win in overtime Tuesday, there was reason to believe the Harrisburg jinx could be broken.

Before the game, Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams said, "It'll take 60 minutes of disciplined hard work, just like Tuesday night. We need to get up early on them with quick goals, carry over from the second game."

The Spirit never responded. The team worked hard enough, but Harrisburg's defense was solid, just as it was in the opener, a 17-4 Heat victory. Doug Petras replaced Scoop Stanisic in the goal and did a job worthy of Stanisic, who was held out by coach Jim Pollihan because he seemed tired. Petras played in 18 regular-season games and had an 8-7 record to Stanisic's 15-8.

"They got confidence by scoring early," MacWilliams said. "We didn't shoot enough [19 times] and when we did, Petras saved everything."

The score would have been more lopsided if Cris Vaccaro hadn't made a series of acrobatic saves in the third quarter for the Spirit. Mark Pulisic's goal that raised Harrisburg's lead to 10-2 was the only one of the period.

The Spirit was scoreless from Kevin Sloan's game-opening goal until Tim Wittman's with 2:45 remaining, a drought of 52 minutes, 39 seconds. If Harrisburg had held the Spirit to two points, it would have tied the team record for fewest set in January against Buffalo.

"You can't win with two points, which was all we had until the final few minutes," Wittman said. "Monday night it was 17-4. To Harrisburg's credit, every one of them worked hard -- harder as a team than we did. They deserved to win."

In the end, the Spirit didn't have enough. A new coach, MacWilliams, didn't do it. Neither did 11 new players who never had dirtied their hands with a playoff loss to Harrisburg.

Not even the contributions of Franklin McIntosh, who arrived in December and scored 30 points in seven games against his old Harrisburg team, was enough.

"What I feel is disappointment," said Sloan, another of the 11 new players. "We did what we wanted most of the season. Not having a strong finish in the last quarter [of the season] was what hurt us."

After a 13-7 first half, the Spirit went 10-10 in the second, losing its last five games before the playoffs.

"That was disappointing," MacWilliams said. "It hurt our confidence as we approached the playoffs."

Last night, as Sloan said, "It came down to one game. We gave it all we had."

NOTES: The Spirit played without Brad Smith, who sprained his ankle in the third quarter Tuesday. . . . Jon Parry, the club's No. 2 scorer, played despite a tiny bone chip in his right foot, suffered in the first quarter Tuesday. . . . Chris Morgan pulled a groin muscle last night and Mike Stankovic played with a fever.

Spirit .. .. ..2 ..0 ..0 ..4 ..-- ..6

Harrisburg .. .4 ..4 ..2 ..4 ..-- .14

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