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Blast rallies again, wins Eastern Conference title on Lucas Roque overtime goal

It isn't a script the Blast would prefer to follow for the rest of the win-or-go-home playoffs — play sluggishly most of the game, then find remarkable resolve just in the nick of time — but astonishingly, it worked again Tuesday.

For the second straight game, the Blast rallied from a late two-goal deficit against the Missouri Comets to claim a 4-3 win in overtime and capture the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Conference championship.

On Tuesday, it was forward Lucas Roque providing the heroics, scoring with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game and netting the winner in the opening minute of the second overtime before an announced 4,102 at Royal Farms Arena.

"The guy is just a goal scorer and it's why every team covets goal scorers, because they win you games," Blast coach Danny Kelly said. "In Missouri, he tied the game and then here he tied the game again [and then won it]. What can you say? He's just a huge offensive player for us who comes up big in big games."

In Thursday's series opener in Missouri, Juan Pereira gave the Blast a 4-3 win six seconds into overtime.

"It's not good, not easy when you get down but when you have a team that you know you can trust and have experienced players that are willing to step to it — it's not that bad," Roque said. "We always had trust that we could turn it around."

The Blast, 19-9 overall and 4-0 in the postseason, advances to the Ron Newman Cup Championship Series, where it will face Western Conference champion Soles de Sonora. The opening game is set for April 10 in Baltimore, with kickoff at 6:05 p.m. The teams will travel to Hermosillo, Mexico, for Game 2 on April 15. If the series is tied, a 15-minute mini-game will follow immediately to determine the league champion.

Some good fortune, and Roque's pure finishing, pulled the Blast through Tuesday.

The Comets had protected a 3-1 lead throughout the fourth quarter before defender John Sosa's careless pass to goalie Boris Pardo instead found the foot of the Blast's Onua Obasi, who had an easy finish into the open net to make it 3-2 with 3:24 left.

With an extra attacker on and the Blast pushing for the tying goal, Roque pounded home a half-volley off a pass across from Tony Donatelli to force overtime. Blast goalie William Vanzela made the last two of his 11 total saves in the first overtime before Roque closed out the series.

With the Blast on the power play, he headed in another cross from Donatelli to seal yet another resilient victory.

"You know when you have the feeling that it's coming? Our assistant coach, David [Bascome], he told me when I went to the bench to calm down because he knew it was coming," Roque said. "I had some opportunities and the ball wasn't going in. You can go crazy, but you get a step closer and you know it's going to come. I'm a target [forward], the closest guy to the goal, so they always look to play me and I know my opportunities are going to come.

"I just got to be at the right place in the right moment and have some luck and some faith and everything can go right like it did."

Any momentum the Blast had after Thursday's series-opening win didn't carry over for most of Tuesday.

The Comets clearly had regrouped, opening with more purpose and urgency to carry the play throughout the first half. They finally broke through late in the second quarter for a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Fortunately for the Blast, Vanzela was on top of his game early to keep the hosts close. He turned away point-blank shots from Brian Harris, Lucas Rodriguez and Alain Matingou in the first 15 minutes.

The Blast's first shot on goal came from Kaoru Forbess with 20 seconds left in the first quarter, a nifty half-volley that Pardo turned aside.

The Comets remained persistent and finally were rewarded when Leo Gibson buried a chance from directly in front with 5:41 left in the half. After the Blast offense showed some glimpses of life, getting a couple of chances turned aside by Pardo, the Comets struck for a second time when Vahid Assadpour took a short pass from Max Touloute, gained space down the left side and neatly placed a left-footed shot to the far post for a 2-0 lead with 39 seconds left.

After Touloute gave the Comets a 3-0 lead five minutes into the third quarter, the Blast finally broke through with 2:49 left when Adriano Dos Santos blasted a left-footed shot on goal, finally giving the team's fans something to cheer about.

The Blast has won seven league championships overall, dating to its 1983-84 title in the original Major Indoor Soccer League. Since the 2002-03 season, the Blast has added six more titles and will make its 11th trip to the championship round. This will be the Blast's sixth consecutive appearance in the championship series, but it has won only one title in that span, over Missouri in the 2012-13 season.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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