Prior to tonight’s game, I asked head coach Danny Kelly about his preference for playing the second game of the two-game championship series on the road. He had a perfectly good explanation about only wanting to have to travel once and going into the second game with that edge of having won the first game.
Of course. You have to actually win the first game, and the Blast didn’t do that, losing to a Wave that looked like they were playing an awfully similar game as the one they played in last year’s finals. Milwaukee finished with a similar outcome too, winning 14-2 in front of 6,072 Blast fans at 1st Mariner Arena.
“They scored the first goal and from there they were just sitting back and defending and countering like they did last year in the final, and both times so far it’s worked,” said team captain Mike Lookingland. “So we’ve got to figure out a way to score some of those goals and finish those chances, break that down. They’re sitting back and defending really well right now so I give [Milwaukee head coach] Keith Tozer a lot of credit. The last two years in the final, he’s switched things up on us. And it’s worked. If they play like that we’ve got to figure it out, and if they play straight up then we’re fine. … During the regular season, they didn’t do that to us, so I think Tozer does that for a reason.”
No one scored until about halfway through the first quarter, when Milwaukee’s Rookie of the Year finalist Nick Perera scored a hard shot from the right, tallying three points on the assist from Ian Bennett. And that goal was the only scoring for the quarter, as the Wave defense blocked shot after shot (six in all), keeping the Blast’s tally at 0.
A minute and a half into the second quarter, Ricardinho made a quick two-pointer off an assist from Machel Millwood. While we were watching that, we didn’t notice that Sagu was down on the ground after what appeared to be a bad landing. The trainer came out, and backup Akira Fitzgerald did some sweet yoga on the sideline, but Sagu got back up and soldiered on. Bad. Ass. With about 10 minutes left in the quarter, Milwaukee’s Marcio Leite tore down the field and scored an unassisted two-pointer from the right. A few minutes later, after the restart, Fabinho Ribeiro made a shot at the goal, which was blocked, but Leite took the rebound and nudged it past Pat Healey, who put up a valiant effort at keeping it out of the net. At the end of the first half, Milwaukee had recorded 10 blocks while the Blast recorded only two.
Maybe it was the Dropkick Murphys (who ALMOST make me like St. Patrick’s Day) on the PA system at the beginning of the first half, or maybe a certain coach lit a little fire under some asses, but the Blast came out fighting like drunk Irishmen in a bar. Literally. Milwaukee veteran Joe Hammes and Millwood got into it, landing them both in the penalty box for five minutes each for severe unsportsmanlike conduct. Awesome. Things also got chippy on the Baltimore bench with Carlos Garcia and Warren Ukah apparently exchanging words and having to be separated. Hm.
But the Blast were unable to harness the energy to turn it into something positive, with Leite again making an unassisted goal for a hat trick just over eight minutes in. Just seconds later, former Blast defender Jonathan Greenfield scored on a pass from Marco Terminisi.
With the score at 11-2 and eight minutes and 10 seconds left in the game, Kelly put in Mike Lookingland as the sixth attacker, and with just over two minutes left, Milwaukee’s Josh Rife (who got a haircut and was sans sweatband), found the unattended net with a three-pointer. And that was pretty much it for the Blast.
“We finish our chances, and it’s a different game,” Kelly said. “You must maintain your discipline, your focus, no matter what’s going on. As the game wore on, we started to play the score instead of the game. We started doing things that we know we’re not supposed to do.”
Now the Blast will head to Milwaukee to take on the Wave Sunday at 4 p.m. In order to win the championship, they must win both Sunday’s game and the 15-minute mini game that will follow immediately after.
“We’ve got two more games left,” Millwood said. “[I tell my teammates] to keep your heads up. The way we’re looking at it now, it’s a three-game series. If we can go in there and get the win, then we’re in overtime. I have confidence in us.”