The five o'clock hour couldn't have come any sooner for the Spirit yesterday afternoon.
The team needed a win and it didn't matter how.
After a difficult loss to Buffalo the night before in which it squandered an eight-point lead in the final quarter, the Spirit found a cure simply by getting back on the Baltimore Arena floor for a 5 p.m. game against visiting Tampa Bay.
There was no sluggish first half and no fourth-quarter collapse, just 60 minutes of hard work -- aggressive play on defense and resourcefulness on offense -- with the reward a solid 15-5 win over the Terror before 2,471.
The Spirit improved to 10-11 and ended its three-game losing streak with its third win in four tries this season against National Professional Soccer League East Division rival Tampa Bay (6-14).
The five points allowed were a season low, bettering the previous low of eight.
Bo Vuckovic (two goals, five points) and Nesko Milovanovic (two goals) led the offense, but the intensity on defense was the story for the Spirit.
"We were fortunate we didn't have to sit around for a week and think about the Buffalo loss. We knew we had to do whatever it took to win and we did that," said Spirit captain Barry Stitz, who scored a goal and added an assist. "Our defense played very well and it started with the midfielders and forwards getting back. When you're talking indoor soccer, it's all five guys and not just the defenders out there."
Fittingly, it was goalie Cris Vaccaro, who also continues to fill in as coach while Mike Stankovic serves his three-game suspension, who ended any possible fourth-quarter suspense when he tossed in an empty-net goal after the Terror pulled keeper Stuart Dobson for an extra attacker with five minutes left.
"That was the most gratifying feeling," said Spirit defender Ronnie Simmons, who logged plenty of minutes and best represented the Spirit's workmanlike effort. "That was like the knockout punch."
Vaccaro's goal, his second of the season, gave the Spirit a 12-5 lead and Vuckovic added a three-pointer 12 seconds later to close out the scoring.
It was what Vaccaro is more accustomed to doing -- keeping balls out of the Spirit goal -- that was the difference early.
He came up with one of his finest efforts of the season when the Spirit needed it most, finishing with 20 saves -- including two big ones in particular in the first half.
With the Spirit leading 6-2 late in the first quarter, he dove to his right to snag a Gerard Gregoire shot from close range. Early in the second, he covered the left corner with a Terror player right on the doorstep.
The Spirit took a 10-5 lead into the final quarter, with three of its five goals coming off restarts -- including two from Milovanovic. Unlike Friday, when it had an eight-point cushion going into the final 15 minutes against Buffalo and came away with the loss, the Spirit didn't let up.
"It was a much-needed win and a little tiny step in the right direction," Simmons said. "We're still a long way from playing championship-caliber ball, but we can find confidence in ourselves with this and that's what we need right now."
Behind the bench for Tampa Bay was interim coach Derrick Marcano, a former Spirit player. Marcano replaced coach Kenny Cooper, who stepped down early last week. Cooper, who coached both the Blast and the Spirit, was in the stands and went on the floor at halftime to thank the Baltimore fans for all the memorable years.
Pub Date: 1/13/97