Already assured first place in the Major Arena Soccer League's Eastern Division, the Blast opted to show off its depth Saturday night against the Harrisburg Heat.
Forward Jamie Darvill and midfielder Juan Pereira each had hat tricks and defender Drew Ruggles scored a 3-point goal late in the second quarter to help the Blast past the Heat, 25-5, in front of a sparse crowd at Royal Farms Arena in snowy Baltimore.
"It's important," Blast coach Danny Kelly said of getting reserves playing time. "Guys like Jamie Darvill I thought had a very good night for us; getting Juan Pereira and [Jerjer] Gibson some time on the field is critical because, ultimately, I have to make some tough decisions come playoff time as far as roster spots go. And whether we have injuries or anything like that, getting these guys up to speed is important for us in moving forward."
In his second career start, both wins against the Heat, backup goalie Phil Saunders (Perry Hall, UMBC) made seven saves and recorded two assists for the second time.
The Blast (16-2) finished the regular season undefeated (10-0) — a franchise first — and outscored opponents 193-41 with four shutouts.
"It's important to win all your games, but winning at home in front of your home fans is something special for us," coach Danny Kelly said. "Obviously we get great support at home and we want to continue to have great support and winning keeps the fans coming back. We put a good product on the field and we're proud of that."
The Blast close out the regular season with road games against the Heat and Rochester Lancers next weekend before returning to Royal Farms Arena on March 11 to open the Inaugural MASL playoffs in a one-game Eastern Division final against the Syracuse-Rochester semifinal round winner. Fans who bought tickets for Saturday's game against the Heat — whether they attended the game or not — will receive a free ticket to the March 11 playoff game courtesy of the Blast.
The Blast rested regulars Adauto Neto, Lucio Gonzaga, Adriano Dos Santos and gave starting goalie William Vanzela the night off after Friday's 24-0 shutout win over the Chicago Mustangs.
After the Heat opened the scoring on a goal from Chris Hall with 8:20 to play in the first quarter, the Blast were quick to reply.
Tony Donatelli found Darvill at the far post with a crisp pass that made for an easy goal to tie the game less than two minutes later. Pereira gave the Blast the lead for good at 4-2 when he ripped a shot from the left side that found the top far post. Darvill, who scored his first three goals of the season, made it 6-2 with 1:29 left in the quarter.
While the Blast controlled play throughout the second quarter, Harrisburg goalie Tim Mehl (17 saves) kept the Heat close until Ruggles scored a 3-point goal from far out and Diego Zuniga scored another with five seconds left to push the advantage to 12-2 at the break. Pereira opened the third quarter with consecutive goals to further pad the lead and complete the hat trick.