By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor
Twenty-two years of frustration were erased by waves of jubilant emotions after Burbank’s 4-1 victory over Burroughs clinched a share of the Pacific League title. Not since 1991 had the Bulldogs tasted the “championship” fruits of victory. To put it into perspective, not one of the 19 Burbank players had been born yet when the last baseball title was won up on the hill.
Friday night at Burroughs, the Burbank Bulldogs were rewarded with their first-ever Pacific League championship after a stellar performance at the home of their cross-town rivals. For 15 seniors and their head coach, it was worth every grueling day of practice and games for the past 11 months.
“It’s a long road. A lot of moments when things didn’t go well,” said an emotional Burbank coach Bob Hart. “You put your heart and soul in something that matters. I’m really proud of this team.”
Once catcher Hector Rodriguez caught closer Ricky Perez’s final pitch to end the game, the Bulldogs rushed the mound and dog-piled on each other in pure joy. Players, coaches and parents basked in the limelight celebrating the title. But no one was more deserving and satisfied than the skipper of the Big Blue.
Hart, in his ninth season at BHS, has seen his program rise up to an elite level of excellence that prides itself on a labor of love and a passion for the game of baseball. It came to fruition alongside a coaching staff loyal to Hart and dedicated in its vision to bring a championship to Burbank High. Ironically, Hart and his staff (Craig Sherwood, Tommy Perez and Tony Sandoval) are Burroughs alumni.
While their hearts will forever bleed red inside, it was true blue on the outside on this evening. After getting doused with a bucket of water by Ricky Perez and Harrison Hernandez, an elated coach reflected upon his championship team.
“You can’t teach toughness. Our guys were a little tougher than some of the teams we played,” Hart said. “When you play catch, and you have warriors on the hill and the best coaching staff in this league, you win games.”
“I can’t even put it into words. My freshman year coming into varsity I really thought we were going to win that year. Turns out none of the seniors were really into it. I’ve spent the next three years with these guys and finally to win league it just means the world,” said Dylan Mersola, a four-year starter who is batting .366 on the season. “We have so much chemistry. Everyone just gets along great. Since day one we are all friends. We come out every day and put in work for this result.”
Burbank (16-8, 12-2) scored at the outset of the contest. Perez led off the game with a double to right field. He advanced to third on a balk and scored on a throwing error by pitcher Luis Pereyra.
The Bulldogs opened a 4-0 lead in the very next inning courtesy of four singles and mental lapses on defense by the Indians. Dylan Mersola’s one-out two-run single to left field highlighted an inning where Burroughs (16-11, 10-4) shot itself in the foot with several uncharacteristic defensive miscues.
The Indians had their own offensive struggles as well not converting golden opportunities against Burbank ace Angel Villagran in the third and fourth innings.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Indians shortstop Brian Pozos hit a soft dribbler back to Villagran to end the threat.
After Akira Abderrahman doubled to give JBHS runners on second and third with one out in the fourth, Patrick Christopher hit a comebacker that ricocheted off Villagran’s glove for a single and an RBI to cut the deficit to 4-1. On the ensuing at-bat, Pereyra laid down a bunt on a safety squeeze that Villagran cleanly fielded with his glove and flipped a perfect throw to Rodriguez who tagged Abderrahman out at home. Chris Davies then hit into a 5-4 fielder’s choice to end the inning.
“We practice that all the time in PFP (pitcher fielding practice). It felt so good,” Villagran said of his great toss. “I was trying to keep my composure. Keep the ball low, get the ground ball and get out of the inning. Basically let the defense do the work. I wasn’t too worried about them scoring if I do my job.”
Villagran pitched six quality innings allowing five hits and one earned run. He improved his record to 7-4 with an ERA of 1.90. In league, Villagran is 7-2 and an earned run average of 0.96.
Perez went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, a stolen base and his fourth save of the season. He is batting .471 in league with two huge games against his former school, Burroughs, where he attended as a freshman.
Jimmy Cramer of Burroughs had two hits on the evening and scored the Indians lone run.
“We earned it. Every day in September and October we were grinding,” said third baseman John White. “It feels so good to finally be here. This is the best group of guys I could imagine.”
“It feels great to be a champion. That’s what we worked for all year,” Villagran added. “It feels so good I just want to go celebrate right now.”
And celebrate they did. In a series dominated by Burroughs over the last two decades (39-4 through 2012), Burbank swept the season series from the Indians for the first time since the late 1980’s.
The CIF Division II playoff pairings will be announced on Monday afternoon here at MyBurbank.com.