KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Thursday's playoff game finally ended, with the Sockers defeating the Comets, 5-4, in overtime, Brian Quinn stood to the left of the Comet goal with his fists raised triumphantly.
It was a moment of joy and relief for the Socker midfielder, who, like his teammates, has suffered through a very frustrating season.
Quinn had successfully returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for 23 games. And the start of the playoffs resulted in a rebirth for the five-time indoor champions, who struggled and sleepwalked through a disappointing regular season.
But the second season began for the Sockers Thursday night at Kemper Arena.
The Sockers lead the best-of-five opening-round series, 1-0, and they gained the home-field advantage. Game 2 is at Kansas City Sunday afternoon, but Games 3 and 4--if a fourth game is necessary--are in San Diego.
At 5:58 of overtime, Quinn--playing his first game since Feb. 20 and wearing a heavy bandage on his right knee--displayed a burst of speed as he dribbled down the left side. When defender Gino Schiraldi committed himself, Quinn passed to Waad Hirmez, who was alone at the top of the box.
Hirmez completed a hat trick by smashing a left-footer past Comet goalkeeper Alan Mayer.
"I was on his (Quinn's) side, and I just came across," Hirmez said. "Then Gino had to make a decision to go to Brian Quinn. So I just stepped away one yard and faced Quinnie for the pass. He passed it to me and I just hit it the first time into the corner."
Said Quinn: "They had a (line) change and they didn't get guys on quickly at the end. I kept going and going."
That Quinn could keep going was what disturbed Mayer, who allowed one bad goal but otherwise played an excellent game, making 16 saves on 29 shots.
"There was no reason Quinn should be wide open and Hirmez wide open," Mayer said. "It was a defensive lapse, and it cost us."
Another defensive lapse by the Comets gave the Sockers the spark and the break they needed to come back from a 3-1 halftime deficit.
"At halftime, I told the players we were very unfortunate to be where we were," Socker Coach Ron Newman said. "I knew that surely a goal would give us some momentum. The goal came quicker than I expected."
Nine seconds into the half, Juli Veee--who had three assists--hit Hirmez on a long ball from the red line. Mayer came out of the goal. Hirmez slid it in the net from 15 feet.
Suddenly, the Sockers had a spark.
With all the offensive regulars except Branko Segota (fractured cheekbone) back from injuries, San Diego resembled the Sockers of old Thursday.
At 7:03 of the third quarter, they tied the score on Jean Willrich's 40-footer from the left wing that spun through Mayer's hands.
Eighty seconds after Willrich scored, the Sockers took a 4-3 lead on a set play between Veee and defender Fernando Clavijo.
On a restart from the left corner, Veee fed Clavijo in the crease. Clavijo turned and one-touched the ball into the upper left corner.
San Diego had the lead and the momentum. The Comets were 12-0 at home when they led at halftime, but Socker goalkeeper Jim Gorsek (11 saves on 27 shots) was magnificent, and the Sockers maintained their intensity on offense.
The Comets, trailing 4-3, called a timeout with 4:09 remaining.
Kansas City had a restart in its right corner. Charley Greene was inserted as a sixth attacker. Five seconds after play resumed, Jan Goossens--the Comets' leading scorer with 51 goals--tied it on a right-footer from inside the box.
With 30 seconds to play in regulation, referee Bill Maxwell called Hugo Perez for tripping. The crowd of 8,141 went wild. After all, the Comets led the league in power-play percentage. The Sockers were furious such a call would be made at that time.
San Diego killed the penalty that ran over into overtime. And then, they won the game.
Socker Notes If a game 4 is necessary, it will be May 17 at 8:05 at the San Diego Sports Arena. The game had originally been scheduled for 6:05, but the start was changed to allow crews in the Sports Arena time to break down the "Masters of the Universe" show scheduled that afternoon. . . . Comet defender Gino Schiraldi scored twice and Charlie Fajkus and Jan Goossens once each for the Comets.