By Scott French
Photo Credit: Magic Moments Sports Photography
ANAHEIM — The pivotal moments in Servite's first-round triumph in the CIF Southern Section boys soccer playoffs Thursday afternoon occurred a week earlier, when Millikan's top two scorers were red-carded in a virtually meaningless regular-season finale.
The fourth-seeded Friars (14-2-7) would have been tough to oust in the Division 1 clash, no matter who was on the field for Millikan (16-5-7), but without striker Cameron Badal and playmaker Justin Huddleston, there was only so much the Rams could do.
Kyle Pearce scored an early goal, goalkeeper David Mitzner made two big first-half saves and Chad Sinclair and Brett Lux added second-half strikes to carry Servite to a 3-0 victory and set up a showdown Saturday afternoon at Santa Ana Stadium with Santa Ana (21-5-2), a 2-0 winner over Corona del Mar behind goals by Elvis Castelan and Edgar Canela.
The Friars were the better side from start to finish but were outshot and conceded as many chances as they created before halftime. After the break, it was fairly one-sided.
"I was very pleased with our team. We showed good resolve defensively ...," said Jon Spencer, who guided Servite to its sixth successive Trinity League title this season. "This is great for us to be able to play a first-round game against Millikan. They pressed us, they did not give up. I think the resolve we showed today was any pressure, we were going to meet. We'll take that and up the ante a little more."
Pearce fired the Friars ahead in the 11th minute, knocking home Uriel Sanchez's cross into a crowded goalmouth. Millikan, playing its postseason opener on the road for the first time in 19 years, put five shots on frame in the first half and nearly netted equalizers twice.
Mitzner came up big both times, diving to deny Christian Monge from a corner kick in the 27th minute and to stop Angel Morales in the 40th. Gibson Channel put away the rebound on the latter opportunity but was flagged offside.
Servite was in charge the rest of the way, building a 10-1 second-half shot advantage — Millikan's lone try arriving in stoppage — and putting away its two best opportunities. Sinclair made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute. taking a pass from Ernesto Garcia into space above the box and rifling a shot into the net. Lux, a center back, tallied in the 68th, taking a feed from Sinclair after a corner kick and hammering it in from the middle of the Rams' box.
Millikan lacked the firepower to respond without Badal and Huddleston, who each served a mandatory one-game suspension for receiving red cards in the regular-season finale.
"Not taking anything away from (Servite), they won, but when you take (a combined) 27 goals and 16 assists — half your goals from the whole season are now on the floor — that's a tough task. ... Justin runs the show, and then you have Cameron, and there's no answer for him, as fast as he is. It's a whole different game (if they're playing)."
Spencer would have liked to see Millikan at full strength, too.
"They're an excellent squad," he said. "Millikan, when you think about Division 1 CIF Southern Section title, they're one of the top five all-time programs over the last 30 years. They definitely missed two key players. ... There's part of me that wished they really had them against us today, 'cause we needed to press our guys to the limit. We need to see what our guys are made of at this point in the season."