Spirit coach Dave MacWilliams was saying before last night's game that he didn't want to get in a run-and-gun battle with Cleveland's Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic.
MacWilliams got his wish -- except for the second period, when the Crunch scored 10 points, which proved decisive in a 17-9 victory before 5,115 at the Baltimore Arena.
For Cleveland, the pair scored six goals between them, accounting for 10 points. Marinaro, who leads the National Professional Soccer League in scoring, and Karic, who is No. 2, each had three goals, good for five points, and one assist.
Mike Stankovic had two goals for the Spirit.
"Defensive lapses cost us the game," MacWilliams said. "The first period, we played soccer, but we got away from it. When you give Cleveland that many chances, they're going to burn you. That was a poor performance by us."
Joe Mallia, who has been alternating in goal with Cris Vaccaro, agreed.
"That was a case of poor execution on our part," Mallia said. "It starts with me and goes through the team. In a five-minute span, a team like Cleveland can make you pay for it."
The first goal of the game came at 6:15 off the toe of Stankovic, 39, who was left open in the middle 20 feet from the cage. Stankovic drilled it past Otto Orf to put the Spirit ahead, 2-0.
Forty-three seconds later, Barry Stitz hit another two-pointer after an assist from Ronald Simmons to give Baltimore a 4-0 lead.
Cleveland got on the scoreboard on a power play with 2:03 left in the first quarter when Marinaro connected on a one-pointer. The assist was by Henry Gutierrez.
Loyola College product Doug Miller scored a two-pointer for the visitors 53 seconds into the second period to cut the Spirit lead to 4-3.
The Crunch tied it at 4-4 when Karic converted a shootout goal at 7:13 after a tripping penalty against Brad Smith.
David Vaudreuil came back 48 seconds later with a two-point goal, assisted by Lance Johnson, to put the Spirit back on top, 6-4.
But Cleveland then scored three goals within 2:22, by Tanner, Tim Tyma and Marinaro, giving the Crunch a 9-6 lead 10:30 into the period.
Karic concluded the Crunch's 10-point second period with a two-point goal at 11:52. At halftime Cleveland led, 11-6.
Stankovic connected on a three-pointer at 9:43 of the third period to pull the Spirit to within 11-9, but Marinaro headed one in 3:40 into the final period and increased the Crunch lead to 13-9. Miller scored his second goal of the night, a two-pointer at 9:41, and the Crunch lead increased to 15-9. Karic's third goal, also a two-pointer, made it 17-9 with 2:55 to play. Karic was helped off the floor after the goal.
NOTES: The Spirit played without midfielder Franklin McIntosh, who was sitting out a suspension for popping off at coach MacWilliams. . . . General manager Drew Forrester was back in town before game time after a quick trip to the Buffalo-Chicago game in New Haven, Conn., where he tried unsuccessfully to make a trade for McIntosh, the league's third-leading scorer with tTC 35 points. . . The Spirit last night was also without injured Bobby Esposito (strained hip flexor). . . . Zak Gibson hurt a knee in the third period and left the floor for the night.