Led by goalkeeper William Vanzela and hat tricks by Andrew Hoxie and Adriano Dos Santos, the Baltimore Blast got the lead in the second quarter and continued to build on it, culminating in an 8-2 win over the Harrisburg Heat Sunday at New Holland Arena. The Blast clinched a playoff spot for the 12th straight year.

Kermit the Frog said it’s not easy being green and to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the Heat wore special Irish-styled green jerseys, as did the Milwaukee Wave and Utica City FC. The Dallas Sidekicks and El Paso Coyotes, who always wear green, combined with the Heat and Utica to lose by a combined 25 goals on Sunday. Irish eyes only smiled on Milwaukee, who won their game 7-4.

The Heat hadn’t lost at home since their season opener and had won six of their last 10 overall after a 1-7 start. The Blast entered the game with a three-game winning streak, but Hoxie came in with an eight-game goalless streak.

“As a forward if you’re not scoring goals you always start to think you’re not doing well and you’re second guessing yourself,” said Blast coach Danny Kelly. “For me it’s not always about those guys scoring goals. Are they creating chances? Are they creating opportunities for their teammates? As long as they work hard defensively, ultimately it’s going to come. I know it was probably weighing on him a little bit, but for me there’s other things that I’m looking at for our forwards other than just the scoring.”

“You don’t want to say it weighs on you, you don’t talk about it to other people, you don’t mention it out loud, but it’s definitely in the back of your mind a little bit,” said Hoxie. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure to score but I just try to help the team win and today the ball went in so it’s about time to get that back on track.”

After a scoreless first quarter it was Hoxie who got the Blast on the board at 2:20 of the second quarter when he crashed the goal and kneed in a Jonatas Melo corner kick pass. It was his first goal since January 19.

“It felt good,” said Hoxie. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this goal drought. Once one goes in they all follow so that was nice.”

About five minutes later Hoxie took a long pass from Vanzela, cut it to the middle and laced a line drive past a diving William Banahene to make it 2-0.

The Heat staged their only comeback of the game when Vanzela made a diving save, but Patrick Thompson settled the rebound with his right foot and slammed it into the net with his left to cut the Blast lead to 2-1, a mere 33 seconds after Hoxie’s second goal.

About four minutes into the third quarter Banahene made one of his best saves of the night on Tony Donatelli, but it resulted in a corner kick. Donatelli took the kick, passing the ball to Sam Guernsey, who passed it back to the Blast captain who coolly tucked it in from that same corner kick spot.

Hoxie completed his hat trick when his crossing pass was kicked in inadvertently by Thompson. “I’ll take it,” Hoxie grinned. “The ball hasn’t been bouncing my way so every now and then it’s nice to have a freebie.”

After that Adriano Dos Santos took over, scoring three of the Blast’s final four goals and assisting on the other.

The Blast win, coupled with Utica’s loss, puts them in a tie for first at 13-6.

“There’s five games to go and we got Utica in one of those games,” said Kelly. “We just gotta keep getting better. Today was, I thought, three very good quarters. The first quarter we came out flat and I can’t explain that, but we did a good job of picking it up in the second quarter. This is a good win. Harrisburg is a good team and it was a critical win for us because it put us in the playoffs and it knocked them out.”

Both Kelly and Vanzela played up the team concept, but there was no doubt that the veteran keeper was the star of the game. From a series of kick saves, to flying off his line to cut down the angle on Heat attackers, Vanzela was in the zone.

“One of his best performances,” said Kelly. “He’s had a lot of them and this was another one. William for me, hands down, is the best goalkeeper in the league and he’s the reason we’ve won a lot of games, but the guys in front of him do a great job as well so it’s a total team effort, and it was a total team effort tonight to get the win.”

“I really don’t rate my performance,” Vanzela said. “I rate our team performance and I think the team in front of me did a really good job to prevent opportunities for Harrisburg and that’s the difference in the game.”

The Blast have clawed their way back into the Eastern Division race by winning six of their last seven, but Vanzela wasn’t celebrating Utica’s loss today to the Mississauga MetroStars, who had been 0-7 on the road this year.

“We don’t care about them, we care about us,” Vanzela said. “We don’t control what they do and honestly we’re in this position because we put ourselves there and we got to get out of that position by winning every game.”

NOTES: The Heat’s five-game home winning streak ended…the Blast play Utica on March 31; Utica leads the season series 3-2…Vini Dantas, who had five goals last game against the Kansas City Comets, missed the game with a stomach virus.