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Sockers Run Out of Time, Lose Opener on Late Goal

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Times Staff Writer

Suddenly, the game was over. And everyone was shocked.

With the scoreboard out of commission at the San Diego Sports Arena Saturday night, the 9,634 fans and players were periodically told how much time was remaining by the public-address announcer.

There was 1:34 left to play in a tie game . . . Then Comet midfielder Barry Wallace scored on a 30-footer from the left wing with 10 seconds remaining . . .

Then the Comets were celebrating their 5-4 victory over the Sockers in the opening game of the best-of-seven Western Division championship series.

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“When we scored, I thought there was five or six minutes left,” said Dave Clements, Comet coach.

The Sockers couldn’t believe they had blown a 4-2 third-quarter lead at home, and couldn’t believe they had too many men on the field with just 1:34 to play, resulting in a Socker penalty and a Comet power play.

“I’m pleased they screwed up,” Clements said.

“I’m absolutely stunned,” said Socker Coach Ron Newman. “It couldn’t happen to a team this experienced, but it did.”

When Raffaele Ruotolo did not get off the field before Hugo Perez ran on, the Sockers drew the crucial penalty.

“Raffe should have come off,” Newman said. “But the ball was thrown (by goalkeeper Zoltan Toth) in his (Ruotolo’s) area, and players on the bench were yelling ‘the ball, the ball.’ ”

Ruotolo changed his mind and stayed on the field.

The explosive Comets capitalized on a Wallace left-footer that went by Toth, who said he didn’t even see the ball until the last instant.

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“On the power play, we were basically looking for a good opening,” Wallace said. “Time was running out. The idea was to get a shot off. Fortunately, it went in.”

The winning goal capped a comeback for the Comets, who trailed, 4-2, midway through the third quarter. The Sockers were playing at home, where they went 23-5 during the regular season.

But the Comets led the league in scoring and rallied to win eight times in the fourth quarter in the regular season and twice in the playoffs against Los Angeles.

“In this game you can’t afford to relax,” said Socker defender Kevin Crow. “Especially against a team like that. You cannot relax defensively. You can relax offensively. We have too many people who think the other way.”

Comet forward Damir Haramina scored with 7:43 to play in the third quarter, cutting the Sockers’ lead to 4-3.

Then midway through the fourth, Comet goalkeeper Alan Mayer made a key lunging save on a shot by Branko Segota.

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“There was a flurry in front of the goal, and I went down two or three time,” Mayer said. “He (Segota) hit the top of the ball, and it bounced in the air. I was on the ground. I was fortunate to hit it with my left hand. It was a key save because we came right back and scored on a changeover.”

Dale Mitchell tied the game at 4 with 8:04 to play.

By that time, the Sockers were tiring. They had three offensive players who returned to the lineup Saturday.

Hugo Perez (two goals) returned to the lineup after missing the last two games of the Sockers’ playoff series against Tacoma with a pulled quadricep.

Segota (scored on a penalty kick), who only played on power-play opportunities during the second half, had missed the last three games against Tacoma with a pulled quadricep.

Zoran Karic also returned to the lineup after missing the series against Tacoma.

“(Brian) Quinny was dying out there,” Juli Veee said.

And the Comets were gaining in confidence.

“Early in the game I knew we’d be a little shaky,” Clements said. “My main concern was that at halftime we’d still be in contact.”

They were, trailing only 3-2.

The Comets took a 1-0 lead on Jan Goossens’ right-footer from just to the right of the penalty area at 3:02 of the first quarter.

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Segota’s penalty kick from the penalty spot--a bullet that whizzed by Mayer--tied the game at 1 at 11:11. Segota was awarded the kick when Comet defender Chris Hundelt tripped him from behind on a breakaway.

The Sockers took a 2-1 lead at 6:32 of the second quarter when Perez and Veee teamed up on a perfectly executed give-and-go. Perez received a pass from Veee while running to his right in the penalty area and scored on a left-footer.

Kansas City evened the game at 2 when midfielder Tasso Koutsoukos put in a rebound of a shot by Kia at 10:53.

The scored stayed there for just 1:32 before the Sockers regained the lead on an own-goal that went in the net off Comet defender Kim Roentved. Veee was credited because it was his pass that went in off Roentved.

San Diego made it 4-2 at 5:50 of the third quarter when Perez scored his second goal on a blast from the top of the arc that bounced in the net off the left post.

But it was all Kansas City after that.

“Unbelievable,” Newman repeated. “This was a giveaway.”

Socker Notes

With Branko Segota, Hugo Perez and Zoran Karic returning to the lineup Saturday, Socker Coach Ron Newman had to sit some players down. But not dressing midfielder Jacques Ladouceur was a surprising choice. Ladouceur played in 51 regular season games and in all four playoff games against Tacoma.

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