By Damien Dottore
ANAHEIM – Servite senior goal keeper David Mitzner said one of his former coaches told him that he should always go into a game anticipating that he will have to make three big saves for his team to win the game.
That wasn’t exactly true.
On Saturday, Mitzner had to turn away five Cathedral shots for the host Friars to advance to their first CIF-SS Division 1 championship match since 2015.
Servite edged Cathedral, the second-ranked team in the state, 3-2 on penalty kicks after the semifinal match ended in a scoreless tie thanks to two clutch saves from Mitzner in the closing minutes of regulation.
Servite will play Loyola in the championship match Saturday, Feb.29. The contest is expected to be held at Warren High in Downey.
“You always have to be tuned into the game,” Mitzner said. “You always have to be ready to make a save when you need to come up big. Maybe now I can get a ring like my brother.”
Mason Mitzner played on the Friars’ team that won a championship in 2015.
For most of the game, Cathedral tried to attack from the side of the field, feeding the ball mostly to 6-foot-2, 185-pound forward Nile Nguidjol. The Phantoms didn’t start to use the middle of the field until the final 10 minutes, and that is when they started to cause problems for the Friars.
In the 77th minute, Alex Palomares headed a high-arcing shot from just inside the 18-yard line that Mitzner leaped and batted away just as the ball was ready to dip under the cross bar. A minute later, Mitzner stretched out on the ground to turn away a 20-yard line drive from Oscar Morales.
“Cathedral is a respectable team,” Mitzner said. “They are very good on and off the ball. They are a great opponent.”
The Phantoms put even more pressure on Mitzner in PKs after Cathedral’s Steven Ruiz stopped the Friars’ first shot to take a 1-0 advantage.
“It is always heartbreaking when that happens,” Mitzner said, “but then I know that I need to step up my game and make the save and do what I need to do to get it done for my team. I can only control what I can do.”
And what he did after that was block three of Cathedral’s next four penalty kicks.
“Our goal keeper played like the NCAA Division I athlete that he is,” Servite coach Jon Spencer said of Mitzner, who will play for Portland next season. “He was awesome on the PKs. It was very well done by him.”
The game was dominated by two strong defensive performances for the most part. The Friars broke through into the final third only a few times, but more often than not a wild shot was the end result.
Servite did have the ball hit the back of the net in the 54th minute after Jesus Melgoza fed a perfect diagonal ball to Dean Hirsch, but Hirsch was ruled offside.
Shutting down Cathedral was not easy for the Friars as Spencer said this was one of the smaller sides that he has fielded, and the Phantoms had plenty of big bodies up front.
Ryan Hersey had the tough job of guarding Nguidjol, who scored eight goals this season.
Nguidjol didn’t get a shot on goal even though nearly every Cathedral cross and free kick headed his way in the first half.
“We don’t have the tallest or the fastest players in the world, but we have a lot of heart and love for each other and that is what made the difference,” Spencer said. “It feels special, and I am proud of this group because we faced so much adversity to get here. We had challenge after challenge, but these guys are resilient, and they persevered.”
Loyola defeated visiting Mission Viejo 3-0 in the other semifinal Saturday.