No matter how trying the circumstance, the Blast never wavered in the 2016 Major Arena Soccer League playoffs.
The team's final bit of resolve was on display in Hermosillo, Mexico, early Saturday morning when it defeated Soles de Sonora at its own game.
Known for its defense, the Blast had to adjust to the Suns' tiny field, their powerful offense and the announced 8,000 fans at El Centro de Usos Multiples — doing just that when Tony Donatelli scored a power-play goal 14 seconds into overtime of the second and deciding game of the MASL championship series: Blast 14, Sonora 13.
After going 15-4 during the regular season, the Blast went 6-0 in the postseason with two-game sweeps against the Syracuse Silver Knights, Missouri Comets and now Sonora to claim Baltimore's eighth professional indoor soccer championship.
After the Suns tied the game with 1:02 to play in regulation, the Blast took quick advantage of a power play to open the overtime after star Sonora forward Franck Tayou was sent off for two minutes after receiving his fourth foul in the second half. Blast captain Pat Healey found Donatelli on the right side and he buried the chance for his second goal of the game.
"We had ups and down — from new guys coming in and learning the system to veteran guys stepping up even more — it makes it all worthwhile. We battled all year and when the playoffs started, we took it to another level," said Healey, who finished with three assists.
After opening the series with a 7-3 win in Baltimore on Sunday, the Blast had to go toe-to-toe with the Suns in an offensive slugfest that started late Friday night. Baltimore finally took its first lead in the third quarter and then, in a matter of minutes, found itself down two goals. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Blast got consecutive goals from Andrew Hoxie and Donatelli for its first two-goal advantage at 11-9, only to see the Suns battle back again.
When Lucas Roque gave the Blast a 13-12 lead with 2:19 to play, it seemed a fitting ending considering how he has been the team's offensive hero throughout the postseason — including the game-tying and overtime game-winner that beat Missouri to win the Eastern Conference.
But Sonora was again able to answer with Damian Garcia hammering home a shot from far out to tie the game with 1:02 to play in regulation. The Blast, which came back from two 3-1 deficits against Missouri for overtime wins, had some extra-time magic left to bring home its first championship since the 2012-13 season. Last year, the Blast fell to now-defunct Monterrey in sudden death overtime of the deciding minigame in the championship round. That trip to Mexico is now a distant memory.
On Friday night, 10 Blast players had a point with Roque (three goals, two assists), Jonatas Melo (three goals) Sofiane Tergou (two goals, one assist) leading the way, while goalie William Vanzela came up with some timely saves in the pinball-like action.
"What a game!" Healey said. "[After last year's game], I thought a game couldn't go any crazier — up and down — and here we are, the wildest game. Thank God, we came out on top."
This is the Blast's second and final season competing in the MASL. In February, Blast owner Ed Hale Sr. announced that he plans to leave the 20-team league because of his disappointment in its single-entity business plan as well as the lack of stability with many of its franchises. He's begun work on the creation of a new league, the Indoor Professional League.
"It will start the day after the last ball is kicked and the [MASL] championship has been decided," Hale said in February.
It turns out that last kick was taken by Donatelli and it made the Blast the 2015-16 MASL champions.