Spirit backup goalkeeper Joe Mallia was looking to make the most of his 100th career start last night.
That it was against his former team, the Harrisburg Heat, added a little more incentive for the six-year veteran.
Mallia won the keeper battle with Heat veteran Scoop Stanisic and his teammates provided just enough offense to lead the Spirit to a 12-8 win over Harrisburg at Baltimore Arena.
Mallia finished with 15 saves in his first start since losing to the Heat in Harrisburg on Nov. 9 and improved to 2-2 on the season.
"Any time we go up against Harrisburg, it adds a little something. But having not played in a while, it was important in other ways," Mallia said. "I thought I played pretty well, but I'm only going to be as good as the team in front of me. We really picked it up as a team in the second half."
The Spirit (7-6) moved within a game of first-place Philadelphia -- an 18-15 loser to Cincinnati last night -- in the National Professional Soccer League's East Division. Harrisburg (5-8) has lost four straight.
Still smarting a bit from a 13-11 overtime loss at Tampa Bay on Friday night, in which it had an 11-5 lead going into the final quarter, the Spirit didn't make the same mistake twice.
After third-quarter goals from Jimmy Glenn, Bo Vuckovic and Nesko Milovanovic gave the Spirit a 10-5 lead, the home team got a big insurance goal from Todd Hicks with four minutes left in the game after the Heat closed to 10-8.
"It was a big night, especially after the way we lost last night," said Spirit coach Mike Stankovic.
"Joe played great tonight and I'm real happy for him. He's been waiting patiently. I told him I was going with him tonight and he had a lot of big saves. He had a big performance, and that's what you need from your goalkeeper to lift the team."
Milovanovic led the Spirit attack with two goals, getting to toss two of the special tie-dyed jerseys into the stands. Barry Stitz and Vuckovic both added a goal and two assists.
Stankovic continued to rotate his three goalkeepers, starting Mallia last night after using Cris Vaccaro in Tampa on Friday and Jim McCombs in two home wins last weekend.
Last night it paid off, with Mallia keeping the Spirit close until the offense got rolling in the third quarter.
He also came up with two key saves late in the game after Hicks gave the Spirit the 12-8 lead.
The Spirit jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Stitz deflected Vuckovic's shot past Stanisic 29 seconds into the game, but couldn't find the net again until Milovanovic finished off a feed from Stitz with two minutes left in the half.
In between was frustration for the Spirit attack. A lot of it was due to Stanisic, who came up with 10 saves in the half -- including three straight in a Spirit flurry in front in the final quarter's closing seconds. In the second quarter, Sasa Zoric and Hicks both hit posts for the Spirit and Stanisic made a big stop on Vuckovic with the Spirit on a man advantage.
The Heat got two-point goals from Michael Stephenson and Mark Pulisic, along with a power-play goal from Carlos Rocha to take a 5-4 lead into halftime.
NOTES: The 1996 NPSL amateur draft, which will consist of five rounds, will take place by conference call Thursday. The Spirit will have the 12th pick based on reverse order of the 1995-96 regular-season finish.
Pub Date: 12/15/96