Joe Barger's diving header in the 88th minute provided the Maryland Bays with a 3-2 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers last night in Game 1 of the American Soccer League championship series before a franchise-record 3,116 spectators at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.

Barger, a Loyola College graduate, snuck behind the Strikers' defensive wall and headed Rob Ryerson's free kick just inside the left post to get the Bays to within one victory of the ASL title.

The home-and-home series will resume Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, Fla. The Strikers, who won the title last year, must win Game 2 in order to force a 30-minute tiebreaker after regulation that will decide the champion.

The ASL winner will play the Western Soccer League champion for the American Professional Soccer League title Sept. 22 at Boston University's Nickerson Field.

Fort Lauderdale (17-6) lost for the first time away from home after 11 straight victories.

"We're a team that can respond to anything," Bays Coach Pete Caringi said. "We're going down there to win the first game. They're at home. The pressure's on them."

The Bays, who set an ASL scoring record with 42 goals in 20 regular-season matches, overcame a 2-1 deficit in the final 19 minutes to win for the 11th time in 12 home games.

After Jean Harbor tied it in the 71st minute with his fourth goal in three playoff games, the Bays (18-5) went ahead for good at 87:28.

Midfielder John Abe, who scored the Bays' first goal in the 14th minute, was dragged down just outside the penalty area.

Before the Strikers were able to set their defense, Ryerson sent the free kick past the disorganized defenders to the far post. Barger, a wing defender, connected from about six yards, beating goalie Arnie Mausser to the far corner.

"We made eye contact and I gave him a little wave," said Barger, who joined the squad in midseason after playing for the Major Indoor Soccer League's Baltimore Blast. "It was a beautiful ball from Rob."

Said Ryerson: "I saw him there and I figured if I just got it there, he'd get it."

Barger also assisted on the Bays' first goal with a header from deep inside the penalty area that Abe volleyed into an open net from 10 yards. The lead held until early in the second half when the Strikers scored two goals in two minutes.

Five minutes after intermission, Pedro Magallanes collected Miljce Donev's pass and lifted a 16-yard shot over goalkeeper Steve Powers. Marcelo Carrera gave the Strikers a 2-1 lead in the 52nd minute with a 20-yard volley shot that eluded goalie Powers and found the left corner.

"I think they thought they could secure the lead at that point," Caringi said. "You just can't do that with {first team all-ASL forwards} Phillip Gyau and Jean Harbor in there."

Harbor tied it with about 19 minutes left on an easy header from six yards. Defender Darryl Gee created the sequence with a magnificent crossing pass from the right wing.

Fort Lauderdale 0 2 2 Maryland 1 2 3

GOALS: Fort Lauderdale: Magallanes 50:00, Carrera 52:00; Maryland: Abe 13:43, Harbor 70:45, Barger 87:26.

ASSISTS: Fort Lauderdale: Donev; Maryland: Barger, Gee, Ryerson.

SHOTS: Fort Lauderdale 11, Maryland 15.

SAVES: Fort Lauderdale: Mausser 11; Maryland: Powers 9.