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Blast's Hileman not saving himself

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The regular Blast workout is over for the day, but there on the field at 1st Mariner Arena, Scott Hileman continues on, going through extensive goalkeeper drills with backups Karim Moumban and Brian Rowland.

Hileman doesn't have to do it. He doesn't have to do the conditioning exercise that he is doing now. He makes a save on a ball kicked by Rowland, then runs to the side of the crease to hop back and forth over Moumban's crouched body before running back to the front of the goal to make another save. He does it again and again with no rest.

"Some goalies who play regularly don't take part in some of the goalkeeper training like I do," Hileman said when he was finished - about an hour after the regular field players had gone home.

"But I've learned that doesn't work for me. I've learned what works for me is to go through every practice and then the goalie training, and if my body is sore, I just take it as a byproduct."

An eight-year indoor soccer veteran who has spent the past 5 1/2 years with the Blast, Hileman goes about his job every day as a professional. That was never more clearly demonstrated than last season, when he shared the starting spot with Brett Phillips.

It was Phillips' second stint with the Blast. He and Hileman shared time with then-starter Khalil Azmi during the 1997-98 season here.

So shared duty was familiar, and the two alternated starts through the regular season and the early rounds of the playoffs. But Phillips, now playing for tonight's opponent, the St. Louis Steamers, got the call for back-to-back games during the MISL finals, including the championship-clinching game against the Milwaukee Wave, even though it was Hileman's turn in the rotation.

"It was just the luck of Brett's one win coming when it did," said Blast coach Tim Wittman, the team's assistant coach last season. "Scott and Brett had rotated, but Scott lost the first game in that [three-game] series and Brett happened to be in net when we won the second game. We went with the hot hand.

"Scott is a true professional. He does what he has to do. He's not like most keepers who blame everyone else when things go wrong. He never says anything bad about anyone else, and you never see him yelling at his teammates after a goal. In Game 3, I'm sure he wanted to play, but complaining about it doesn't change anything, and he understood the situation."

In fact, Hileman said recently that he would have made the same call.

"You have to go with what's working," he said.

And though he ached to be in the game, he was happy at the end when the Blast had won the title.

"When the whistle blew, I immediately looked for Lance Johnson and Jason Dieter," Hileman said. "It was my first championship, and those guys had been here their entire careers. The script might not have been the way I'd had it end, but at the end of the day we won, and that's most important. I was part of it and did a lot for the team. I paid my dues, and when it was over, I felt a lot of joy."

Afterward, when he reviewed his season, he found nothing in his game that needed drastic improvement. In fact, Hileman felt the year in the company of Phillips had been good for his game. Throughout the season, they had been able to discuss game situations and how they had played.

"Having the two of them, some people could take it two different ways," Wittman said. "Some people are pushed to be better. Some fold. I think it pushed Scott, because that's his personality."

Hileman started this season with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the first two games, but since then has produced good numbers. He anchored the team's six-game winning streak earlier this season, has recorded five points - one goal, four assists - and has compiled a 12-4 record with a 4.55 goals-against average (fourth in the league).

The caliber of Hileman's play is not lost on his teammates. Rowland, a UMBC alumnus who was picked up in the dispersal draft of Harrisburg Heat players, is new to the indoor game. He recalls coming to Blast games while in college and watching Hileman.

"I could see it was a tough job being a goalkeeper - what with the speed of the game and trying to keep your team in the game," Rowland said. "It is so difficult to go through a game with a minimum of mistakes, and he did a great job."

And now that Rowland is a teammate, Hileman doesn't mind offering help. In fact, he's happy to work with both of the Blast's younger goalkeepers.

"I'm learning from them, too," he said. "Brian is very young, but very competitive, and Karim has been around three years. We talk at halftime of games, because he sees things from the bench that I can't. And he's been pushing me in practice."

Two weeks ago, Wittman listed the three best goalies in the league as Philadelphia's Peter Pappas, Phillips and Hileman, in that order. But since then, the coach has changed his mind.

"Right now and for the last so many weeks, Scott has been at the top of his game and is probably the best goalie in the league," Wittman said of his keeper, who was named the MISL's Player of the Week for his performance in victories over St. Louis and Dallas last weekend. "That's my opinion. Scott's distribution of the ball, his ability to find people and handle the pressure he's facing has taken him over the top."

Blast tonight

Matchup: Blast (13-5) vs. St. Louis Steamers (5-11)

Site: The Family Arena, St. Louis

Time: 8:05

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: The Blast ended St. Louis' two-game winning streak Jan. 9 with an 8-2 victory at home. In that game, Blast goalkeeper Scott Hileman carried a shutout deep into the fourth quarter before giving up a score. Now the Blast, on a four-game winning streak, must travel to the Steamers' arena. The Steamers are led by Steve Butcher, who has 17 goals and 10 assists. St. Louis also gets a break because it didn't have to make a trip to Mexico for a game against the Monterrey Fury, originally scheduled for Jan. 11. The MISL said earlier this week that the Monterrey game was postponed because of this week's Special Summit of the Americas. The Arena Monterrey served as the media center for the summit, which featured President Bush and 34 other heads of state. The Steamers report Daryl Doran (knee), Danny Santoro (knee), Mike Apple (leg) and Mike Kirchhoff (back) are questionable.

- Sandra McKee

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