Put to task by the upstart Harrisburg Heat, the defending Major Arena Soccer League champion Blast survived — barely, but impressively — to advance in the league's Eastern Division final on Wednesday.
After falling to the Heat in Saturday's opening game in Baltimore, the Blast needed to meet the challenge twice Wednesday night. Forward Andrew Hoxie made sure they did.
After scoring the game-winner in Game 2 – the first of three unaswered fourth-quarter goals in a 7-4 victory – he scored the winning goal in the deciding 15-minute mini-game that followed, as the Blast advanced with a 4-1 win to claim the series, 2-1.
"I played against [the Blast] when I was with the Lancers and every time we played, they had an aura about them," Hoxie said. "And now I'm on the other side, it's very surreal, a confidence that when our backs are against the wall, we come together. We're glad we won, but our goal is not to win the first round. We want to win the championship again."
The Blast advance to the Eastern Conference finals, set to host the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday night in the first of a three-game series. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. at Royal Farms Arena.
The series moves to Milwaukee for Game 2 at 7:35 p.m. Tuesday with a third and deciding mini-game to immediately follow if necessary.
With the third and deciding game tied at 1, Hoxie took advantage of a Heat defensive lapse – jumping on an errant pass and scoring with 3:11 to play. Tony Donatelli and Jonatas Melo further secured the win.
Juan Pereira gave the Blast a 1-0 lead in the deciding game before the Heat answered on a goal from ex-Blast Carlos Farias.
With Game 2 tied at 4 going into the final quarter, the Blast buckled down defensively and proved opportunistic on offense, getting goals from Hoxie, Daniel Peruzzi and Adriano Dos Santos to pull away.
With the Blast held scoreless in the third quarter, Hoxie provided the needed lift in the opening minute of the fourth. He slipped behind the defense and — after taking a long pass from Pat Healey (one goal, two assists) — quickly turned and fired a shot past Heat goalie Hugo Silva.
Peruzzi scored his second goal of the game off a nifty feed from Vini Dantas and then the Blast took complete control when Dos Santos blasted a shot from the left side for the 7-4 advantage with 6:31 to play.
A back-and-forth first half ended with the Blast gaining the momentum and a 4-3 lead, thanks to Healey.
With the Blast down a man, he collected a ball on the right side and hit a perfectly placed shot to the far post with 20 seconds left. It gave the Blast their first lead of the game.
Once again, the Heat let the Blast know early things wouldn't be easy. Much like the series opener in Baltimore, the Heat started fast, with two goals coming 21 seconds apart midway through the first quarter. But unlike Saturday, when the Heat scored three unanswered goals in the first, the Blast called timeout and were quick to regroup. Just eight seconds after the Heat made it 2-0, Lucas Roque answered to cut the lead to 2-1 with 7:52 to play.
After Juan Pereira was able to get the Blast back even at 2 with 1:35 left in the quarter, the Heat's Tom Mellor scored 26 seconds later.
The offensive pace slowed in the second quarter and ended up all Blast. Daniel Peruzzi, parked at the far post, one-timed a ball sent in by Tony Donatelli to tie the game at 3 in the opening minute before Healey's late goal gave the Blast their first lead, 4-3, going into the break.
Any momentum the Blast had going into the second half, they gave away in the third quarter. The Heat scored a giveaway goal that tied the game at 4 with 6:56 to play. Healey and Vanzela exchanged one too many passes in close, the second leaking in front of the Blast goal with Heat forward Brad Kersetter crashing the net to pounce on the chance.
MASL Eastern Division final
Blast 2 2 0 3 – 7
Harrisburg 3 0 1 0 – 4
Scoring: 1. Harrisburg, Gonzaga, (Farias), 6:39; 2. Harrisburg, Gatica, (Freitas), 7:00; 3. Blast Roque, (Healey), 7:08; 4. Blast, Pereira, (Dantas), 13:25; 5. Harrisburg, Mellor, 13:51
Scoring: 6. 6. Blast, Peruzzi, (Donatelli), :57; 7. Blast, Healey, 14:40
Penalties: Blast, Roque, (tripping), 13:17.
Scoring: 8. Harrisburg, Kerstetter, 8:04;
Scoring: 9. Blast, Hoxie, (Healey), :55; 10. Blast, Peruzzi, (Dantas), 7:21; 11. Blast, Dos Santos, 8:29
Penalties: Gatica, (tripping), 10:37.
Blast 4, Harrisburg 1
Scoring: 1. Blast, Pereira, 3:08; 2. Harrisburg, Farias, (D. Mellor), 5:33; 3. Blast, Hoxie, 11:49; 4. Blast, Donatelli, 12:33; 5. Blast, Melo, 13:45.