By Dick Dornan
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor
A changing of the guard, perhaps? Burbank took one more step in its quest to win its first league title since 1975 by outlasting rival and defending league champion, John Burroughs, in a 17-25, 25-14, 25-23, 25-17 victory on the Indians home court Thursday night.
“I always tell them that it takes three individual games to win. After the first game was over, I just said we have to move forward,” Burbank Coach Sarah Brown said. “Having a lot of seniors helps. We have won a lot of close games this year and I think that gives us a lot of confidence that when the games are close we are going to win.”
Stephanie Eskander had 12 kills, five blocks and a strong .417 hitting percentage as she led the Bulldogs back from an early 1-0 set deficit. Tyler Brooks added 16 digs, 15 assists and three aces for Burbank, which improves to 7-0 in Pacific League action.
“Winning and being undefeated throughout the whole first round is great,” said Eskander, a first-team all-league selection in 2011. “We have the upper hand on everyone.”
In front of a raucous crowd, Burroughs came out as the aggressor showing signs that they would not relinquish its crown that easy to their neighbors from above the hill.
Trailing 7-6 in the first set, the Indians went on a 12-3 run to take an 18-10 advantage behind the stellar play of Laura Howard and Caitlin Cottrell. After a small comeback by BHS cut the deficit to 18-13, Burroughs dug deep and finished off Burbank, 25-17, on a Howard kill. The two teams combined for seven service errors in the opening set of the highly anticipated match-up featuring the two best teams in league.
Demonstrating plenty of resolve and maturity, Burbank bounced back to take the second set, 25-14. Leading 11-9, the Bulldogs went on a 14-5 spurt highlighted by an ace and three kills from Eskander. Burroughs (5-2) shot themselves in the foot with two mishits and a service error to give Burbank its final three points of the set.
“Every Burbank and Burroughs game is nerve-wracking,” Eskander said. “Once you let go of the nerves and you just play your game, then everything else falls into place. Teamwork and playing with heart won this match for us. If all 15 of us are on board, then we are going to win.”
With momentum on their side, Burbank jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead in the third set. The Indians responded with a 6-0 run. Back came the Bulldogs on a 6-1 counter to regain a 12-10 lead. The teams traded points back and forth until Cottrell’s kill gave JBHS a 23-20 lead.
Facing a potential 2-1 deficit, Eskander stepped up and displayed why she is a frontrunner for the league’s most valuable player. Eskander’s two kills cut the Indians lead to one, 23-22, and her block on set point capped off a stirring comeback that gave Burbank the 25-23 win.
“We came out of the gates quickly and played well,” Burroughs Coach Edwin Real said. “Then we relaxed a little bit. We had that lead and just gave it away. They earned it but we gave it away.”
The fourth and final set featured both teams showcasing two long rallies with the Bulldogs winning both and sensing victory. However, Howard and Cottrell each contributed two kills apiece to help Burroughs keep the set tied at 15.
That was as close as the Indians would come.
Burbank pounced on Burroughs with a 10-2 run which closed out the match, 25-17. Eskander had three kills and a block during the stretch and an ace on match point that propelled the Bulldogs to the monumental league win.
Stefanie Lin had 16 digs for Burbank while teammate Sara Treadway added 10 assists and three aces. Sharon Youn produced a strong evening with eight kills, three blocks and a .333 hitting percentage.
Howard and Cottrell led Burroughs with 12 kills apiece.
Last season Burbank advanced to the second round of the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs for the first time in 36 years.
Thursday night the Bulldogs defeated the Indians for the first time in four years.
Now a league title is within their grasp. Seven matches down, seven to go.
“I can’t believe we are only half-way,” Brown said with a slight gasp. “It feels like it’s been forever.”
“It feels so amazing,” Brooks added. “I’m so stoked right now.”