The Servite High football team has a reputation for being physical, and its futbol team took a page out of the gridders' playbook in the boys' soccer finals of the Southern Section Division 1 championships.
The Friars and top-seeded San Clemente drew whistles early and often, but in the end, it was the favored team that finally pulled out a victory and added a championship plaque to its trophy case.
San Clemente scored a 1-0 victory over Servite on Saturday at Corona High in the marquee game of the section finals.
The Tritons (30-2-1), ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 4 in the nation, were pushed around like they had not been pushed around in five playoff games. The match never developed much of a flow because of all the whistles that interrupted play.
The Tritons scored only one goal for the seventh time this season—but the first time in nearly a month, a 1-0 victory over Capistrano Valley in the South Coast League finale on Feb. 5.
Alek Cucuk took a rebound near the penalty spot and banged in a game-winner that hit both the cross-bar and the post before changing the number on the scoreboard. It was Cucuk's second goal of the playoffs; he also scored in a 4-0 victory over Lawndale Leuzinger in the first round.
Between Cucuk's goals, San Clemente defeated Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Santa Barbara and JSerra.
On a night when Servite did what few others had—shut down Gage Zerboni, who had 30 goals and 22 assists on the season—Cucuk had come through with the only goal that mattered.
It was only the second goal allowed by Servite in the playoffs. The Friars defense scored a 2-1 victory over Long Beach Wilson in the first round, then posted shutouts over third-seeded El Toro, Claremont and second-seeded Los Angeles Loyola.
Zerboni, who is headed for a college career at UCLA, made only one shot on goal, from the top of the box three minutes into the game.
The big defensive performance by the Friars came against a seasoned program that won its second championship in three years and has been prolific on offense.
San Clemente scored 95 goals, and posted 30 victories with 20 shutouts—all single-season school records.
Dylan DiGiacomo recorded three saves to record his 14th shutout—also a San Clemente record.
Goalkeeper Jared Hemann had five saves in the losing effort for Servite (15-9-7).