INDOOR: Bolts finish .500, look ahead

ANAHEIM -- The Anaheim Bolts wrapped up their first Professional Arena Soccer League season with two victories Sunday over the Tacoma Stars, then began making plans for year two.

There's plenty of room to improve -- on the field, sure, after a propensity for late collapse left them two games out of a playoff spot, but even more so within the organization.

Bernie Lilavois, the Bolts' managing partner, head coach and -- when needed, as in Sunday night's finale -- veteran presence on the field, understands this better than most.

“It was a learning experience for all of us,” said Lilavois, whose team won five of its last six games to finish 8-8. “The overall thing -- setting up the field, game operations, everything -- I think we learned a lot this year, so we're real excited to get hard at work tomorrow. That's when it starts.”

The Bolts' final games at Anaheim Convention Center, a doubleheader to make up a December game that was postponed because of field issues, offered plenty reason for optimism on the field. They scored seven of eight goals from late in the first through the end of the third quarter en route to a 9-6 victory in the opener, then battled to a 10-9 triumph in the second game.

Adriano de Lima scored four goals in the first game -- that was three four-game games in succession -- and Hugo Casillas netted his fourth straight hat trick and sixth of the season. De Lima scored three more in the second game to win the team's scoring title (with 42 points) and finish just behind Casillas in goals, 28-27.

Lilavois, 41, contributed a goal and an assist in just his second appearance of the season, eclipsing 1,000 points in a storied indoor career.

Mark Lee scored three goals in the first game and five in the second for Tacoma (3-13).

Anaheim, with a largely inexperienced roster, was ahead in six of their eight losses, in the second half in five of them and into the final quarter in four of them. Turn two of them into wins, and the playoffs are coming up next weekend. The travails, Lilavois hopes, will help build a better side for season two.

“It's going to be a different ball of wax,” he said. “We're going o get to work right away, starting tomorrow. Maybe sleep in a little bit. But the behind-the-scenes work with the ownership group and staff in going to start. We're going to hold [player] tryouts, like we did before, and evaluate players.”

“This whole season was an evaluation. So there's some guys who got some good check marks, some guys got some bad check marks. That's just how it is. But overall, as a group, they survived a lot of turmoil. ... There's a lot of growth that we can move into, and we're going to do that for sure.

Building a legitimate fan base is a primary objective. Lilavois said he City of Anaheim and Convention Center officials “want to help us out and make this thing bigger, as well.” The arena seats about 7,500, but the largest crowd of the season was 1,826, with a lot of the fans cheering on two-time defending PASL Pro champ San Diego Sockers, who went 16-0 and is a huge favorite to make it three in a row in two weeks.

Sunday's attendances -- 249 and 367 -- were by far the smallest of the season; combined, they were still more than 200 shy of the previous low.

“We'll do marketing 101 [for next season],” Lilavois said. “We'll get to that instead of just grassroots [work[, which is what we were concentrating on this year, not really spending money on the marketing side. We'll really get out there this summer ... and spread the word that we're here.”

San Diego advances to the March 9-10 final four at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Tijuana is home against Turlock (both 10-6) for another slot, and Detroit (13-3) is home to Illinois (6-10) and Louisville (11-5) home against Kansas (8-8) for the Eastern Division's two berths.

If the Bolts were in the East, or if four Western Division teams advanced to the postseason, they'd be playing on. Lilavois is happy to finish .500, but if the season were longer -- say 24 or 28 games -- who knows what the team might achieve.

“I think we're just starting to peak,” he said. “I think, with eight or 10 more games, we would have turned a corner.”