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BLIZZARD MISSES CHANCE TO ESCAPE BASEMENT

The Cleveland Crunch slammed the door on the Buffalo Blizzard's attempt to climb out of the cellar Sunday.

Buffalo held a three-point lead early in the third quarter, but the Crunch scored the game's final four goals to register a 19-14 win before 6,408 at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center.

It was the Crunch's seventh straight home win over the Blizzard, which has not won in Cleveland since Feb. 6, 1999.

The loss snapped Buffalo's season-high four-game winning streak and knocked the Blizzard (14-16) back to 1 1/2 games behind the Crunch (15-14) in the battle for the fourth and final playoff berth in the American Conference of the National Professional Soccer League.

"We let it slip away from us," said Buffalo coach Paul Kitson. "We were that close to getting off the bottom of the table. Now we've got our work cut out for us.

"We made mental mistakes. . . . We weren't tired at all."

He said the worst such mistake came at the start of the third quarter, when the Blizzard missed a scoring chance on a two-on-one break while leading, 12-9.

"We had the opportunity to go up by five and we didn't," Kitson said. "A few minutes later, Hector (Marinaro) scored to make it 12-11. It could have made a big difference."

Cleveland forward Brian Hinkey notched his first NPSL hat trick to lead all scorers with seven points.

Doug Miller and Chris Handsor scored twice each for Buffalo, which also got goals from Danny Barber, Matt Caution and Jim Hesch.

Buffalo took a 14-11 lead on Hesch's goal at 6:25 of the third quarter. But Cleveland rallied with two-pointers by Andy Schmetzer, Marinaro, Hinkey and John Ball.

Hinkey's first two goals -- a restart and a three-pointer -- gave the Crunch a 5-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Buffalo countered with 10 points in the second quarter -- the final two on Caution's 44-footer just 44 seconds before intermission -- to take a 12-9 lead at halftime.

Buffalo plays at Philadelphia Saturday and at Baltimore Sunday.

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