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Blast drop MASL playoff opener to Utica City, 12-9

Blast drop MASL playoff opener to Utica City, 12-9
Baltimore Blast goalkeeper William Vanzela turns as a shot by Utica City FC midfielder Liam Callahan (44) finds the net during Game One of the Eastern Division Finals Sat., April 20, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Blast had worked all their way back from a four-goal deficit against Utica City FC when Sam Guernsey scored on a tremendous bicycle kick midway through the fourth quarter that had the SECU Arena crowd in a frenzy on Saturday night.

The three-time defending Major Arena Soccer Lague champions appeared poised to take hold of the first game of the Eastern Division final.

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Instead, Utica City’s Bo Jelovac quieted the crowd with a goal with four minutes to play. The Blast pressed on, but couldn’t come up with the final answer as the visitors tacked on two goals in the final minute for a 12-9 win before an announced crowd of 2,926.

The Blast will have to win Game 2 at Utica City on Monday at 6:30 p.m. and then a 15-minute mini game immediately following to keep their championship hopes alive.

Little separated the teams in the regular season.

They split six games and finished with identical 17-7 records, but Utica was declared Eastern Division champions based on goal differential against each other.

Utica City FC defender Stephen Deroux (77) tangles with Baltimore Blast forward Juan Pereira as goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin focuses on the free ball during Game One of the Eastern Division Finals Sat., April 20, 2019.
Utica City FC defender Stephen Deroux (77) tangles with Baltimore Blast forward Juan Pereira as goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin focuses on the free ball during Game One of the Eastern Division Finals Sat., April 20, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

On Saturday, it turned out a disastrous second quarter outweighed a valiant fourth-quarter push for the home team.

“We lost the game in the second quarter – it’s unacceptable. We made individual mistakes, mental mistakes, collective mistakes and we didn’t much right in that quarter and they made us pay for it,” said Blast captain Tony Donatelli. “We fought back in the second half to give ourselves a chance, but we were just a little short.”

After playing a tidy first quarter on defense in taking a 1-0 lead and then going up 2-1 on a goal from Jamie Wright two minutes into the second quarter, the Blast lost attention to detail by allowing Utica City to rattle off five straight goals in under five minutes.

The home team surrendered free kicks, lost their marks and didn’t get to the ball first. Utica City pounced.

After Jake Schindler gave the visitors a 4-2 lead with 9:39 left in the quarter, Blast coach Danny Kelly called timeout for his team to regroup. Instead, they yielded two goals in a 30-second stretch a couple minutes later -- Joey Tavernese finding space on the left side to score and Mauricio Salles closing out the first half scoring to make it 6-2 with 7:38 left.

Utica City opened the fourth quarter with a 9-6 lead when the Blast began its push.

Mike Deasel scored in the opening minute and Donatelli tapped in a rebound in front to get the Blast within 9-8 with 7:41 to play.

Guernsey, who came into the game with three goals on the season, scored his third of the game in pretty fashion – getting up high to pound home a soft chipped sent in by Vini Dantas from the right side to get the Blast even.

After Jelovac quieted the crowd with the go-ahead goal, the Blast pressed with Donatelli serving as an extra attacker. They had a free kick on the left side in the Utica City’s end with 45 seconds left, but Jonatas Melo’s pass out front to Donatelli was broked up by Domenico Vitale with the deflection ending up in the Blast goal for a 11-9 advantage.

The Blast can look back to past playoff experiences, having dropped opening home game -- in a championship round against Moneterrey and opening round against Harrisburg -- only to rally on the road.

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“We’ve done it in the past, the final against Monterrey, so we’ve done it before going on the road having to win and winning, so we’re still confident and if we can play like we did in the second half we’ll give ourselves a chance.” Donatelli said.

The Milwaukee Wave, which completed a two-game sweep of Kansas City Comets with a 10-3 win Saturday for the South Central crown, will host the Blast-Utica City winner in one-game, winner take all conference championship.

Baltimore Blast defender Adriano Dos Santos heads the ball over Utica City FC forward Slavisa Ubiparipovic as midfielder Tony Donatelli watches during Game One of the Eastern Division Finals Sat., April 20, 2019.
Baltimore Blast defender Adriano Dos Santos heads the ball over Utica City FC forward Slavisa Ubiparipovic as midfielder Tony Donatelli watches during Game One of the Eastern Division Finals Sat., April 20, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)
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