by Damien Dottore
Photo Credit: Mark Rightmire
DOWNEY – When a soccer match resembles a track meet mixed with a bit of a UFC title match, it is almost inevitable that a penalty kick will change the course of the game.
Servite doesn’t often use a quick restart after drawing a free kick, but while Loyola of Los Angeles was still trying to get organized Saturday, Denzel Barrientos quickly passed the ball to a wide open Jesus Melgoza, who was fouled inside in the box as the Cubs scrambled to defend a shot.
Uriel Sanchez then buried his PK in the right side of the net in the 24th minute and the Friars were on the path to a 2-1 triumph in the CIF-SS Division 1 championship game at Warren High School.
It is Servite’s first CIF-SS title since 2015.
“That was a smart play by our team, and it paid a dividend for us today,” Servite coach Jon Spencer said. “To win this is brutally hard. I appreciate it even more now because we have not been here in five years.
“These guys loved each other. They served each other throughout the season, and this is a culmination of that.”
The final score notwithstanding, Spencer said he didn’t think the Friars (16-5-6) played their best on Saturday.
The Cubs (22-4-3) had their share of chances to score, such as in the 43rd minute when David Mitzner had to make a diving save for the Friars to slap away a 30-yard, line-drive half-volley from Eric Arreola.
“We called them out on their performance on the bench,” Spencer said. “In the second half, we just did not get going.”
In the 46th minute, Liam Hook knocked in the tying goal for Loyola.
“But our guys dug deep after that,” Spencer said. “What can I say? They are as a tough as nails.”
The winning goal came from a rather unlikely source. Spencer moved Dean Hirsch to striker for the playoffs, but Hirsch entered the final without a playoff goal.
In the 66th minute, Ernesto Garcia sent a perfect pass to Hirsch who quickly broke the tie.
“When the game got tied, I knew I had to bust my butt to run down the field,” Hirsch said. “This is my third year on varsity, and we haven’t won much, but I felt like this was the year.”