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BLIZZARD CRUNCH-ED BY CLEVELAND IN OPENER VISITORS BOLT TO AN EARLY LEAD, ROLL TO VICTORY IN FIRST GAME OF NPSL PLAYOFF SERIES

The defending champion Cleveland Crunch's offensive machine ran the Buffalo Blizzard through the shredder Friday night.

Led by a record-matching performance by Cleveland superstar Hector Marinaro, the Crunch rolled to a 22-10 victory over Buffalo in the opener of their best-of-three National Professional Soccer League playoff series.

The 5,694 fans -- the smallest crowd in three playoff games in Memorial Auditorium in as many years -- saw Marinaro, the league's regular-season scoring leader, equal his own NPSL playoff record and set a Blizzard opponents record with six goals.

His two assists gave him a 14-point night, most ever by a Blizzard foe.

Three of Marinaro's goals came on assists from Zoran Karic, who also tied his own NPSL playoff and Blizzard opponents record with five assists.

Marinaro scored Cleveland's first two goals in the opening four minutes and knocked in the Crunch's last two goals in the final nine minutes.

"It's playoff time and we know this is the time to step it up a notch," Marinaro said.

"We've got a veteran team and we know what it takes to win a championship from doing it last year. That's our only goal this year."

Cleveland never trailed although Buffalo drew within two points three times in the first half.

Buffalo midfielder Michael Collins got the Blizzard to within 12-10 at 6:13 of the second quarter.

But Cleveland -- which led the NPSL with an average of 18.6 points per game -- scored the game's last 10 points.

Cleveland led, 14-10, at intermission. The second half was scoreless until Andy Schmetzer and Marinaro scored twice in 18 seconds, at 3:29 and 3:47 of the fourth quarter.

Buffalo coach Jim May said Cleveland's dynamic duo knocked holes in Buffalo's game plan.

"What we wanted to accomplish today was not to give them two-versus-ones. And if you look back on their scoring opportunities and what they scored on, they probably had at least 12 to 15 to 18 points on two-versus-ones. You cannot do that with them," May said.

"Hector's speed is one big attribute that's very difficult for us to keep up with," May said.

"Hector and Zoran, No. 1, are very talented people. But No. 2, they play together exceptionally well. And they played together for a long time and they know each other. And that just reiterates the point that you cannot give them two-versus-ones. You cannot let them break off the field and give numbers up to them."

Cleveland coach Gary Hindley said his defenders did a good job in bottling up Buffalo's Rudy Pikuzinski, who was held to one assist and two shots.

"We do the same thing they try to do with Hector and Zoran. You know there's an asterisk in the scouting report next to Rudy and next to Randy (Pikuzinski) and next to (Andrew) Crawford and next to (Paul) Dougherty, and you give them just a little special attention when they're out there," Hindley said.

"Try to get some help, try to take their strong foot away from them. They use the boards quite a bit and we try to defense the boards properly and get a hand on people inside the box the best you can."

Randy Pikuzinski led Buffalo with two goals.

Crawford and Dougherty had one each.

"You've to pick a couple guys on every team and just try to isolate them, do your best on them. And that's obviously Rudy. He's one of the best in the league, so that's what you try to do," said Cleveland goalkeeper Otto Orf, who stopped 13 of 18 shots.

Buffalo keeper Jeff Robben made nine saves on 20 shots.

Robben was shaken up but remained in the game after being slammed against the boards at 12:02 of the first quarter by Crunch midfielder Henry Gutierrez.

The series continues Sunday at 3 p.m. in Cleveland (ESPN 2, Radio 550, 1400).

Cleveland won all three games played on its home surface against the Blizzard during the regular season.

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