By Rick Assad
Trying to sidetrack that steamroller named the Burroughs High boys’ volleyball team isn’t easy.
On Thursday evening, visiting Burbank, like so many other schools who have tried to knock off the Bears from their lofty perch, gave it a shot, but were pushed aside in three sets by the hosts, 25-16, 25-19, 25-19.
And with this regular-season finale, Burroughs has for the 11th straight season, excluding 2020, captured the Pacific League title.
In the clincher, Burroughs, which is ranked No. 11 in the state and No. 42 in the nation by the website maxpreps.com, rushed out to a 5-1 advantage on a kill from Michael Cutrone.
A winner from Vinny Harris made it 8-4 and in short order the Bears (7-1 overall and 4-0 in league) seized command 12-8 on a smash from Justin Burras.
The cushion became 16-11 on a push from Chris Johnson and Cutrone’s dagger increased the Bears’ margin to 17-13.
The Bulldogs (4-1 and 4-1 in league) didn’t go down without a fight as they pulled within 20-17 on back-to-back service aces from Ryan Viyar.
Consecutive hitting errors by Burbank’s Choy Jimenez gave Burroughs a 24-18 lead and a Burras kill sealed the game and match.
“We got the job done. Guys were excited about getting to play,” Burroughs coach Joel Brinton said. “After months of wondering if we would have a season, it was awesome to see the guys accomplish this stuff.”
One of the Bears’ best players, Kade McGovern, who is headed off to Harvard University, suited up, but didn’t play in the match.
In the opening set, the Bears raced to a 5-1 lead on a service ace from Cole Kvarda.
Burroughs then took control 12-4 on a block from Cutrone and forged ahead 16-6 on consecutive kills from Johnson.
Carter Cottrell’s bullet handed the Bears a 19-8 advantage and Cottrell’s kill and ace made it 23-10.
A push from Cutrone saw the Bears lead 24-15 and when Viyar’s strike sailed out of bounds, the Bears captured the initial set.
The second game was tied 1-1, 3-3 and 6-6 on an ace from the Bears’ Jeremy Lapeze.
But like the other two sets, Burroughs took control and surged ahead 9-6 on a shot from Burbank’s Christian Choe that went out of bounds.
The Bulldogs drew within 12-10 on a tapper from Jonathan Coleman, but again the Bears rallied and led 16-13 on Johnson’s kill.
“Burroughs is a great team. They controlled the court the entire time,” Burbank coach Patrick Tyler said. “We probably took the rivalry too much to heart.”
Tyler knew his squad was facing a tough opponent. “Again, they’re one of the strongest programs in Southern California,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to compete against them.”
The only setback the Bears suffered was against highly-ranked St. Francis, and it went five sets.
The Bulldogs entered the match without having lost, but didn’t play as well as they are capable of.
“We probably played our worst game of the season against our toughest opponent,” Tyler said. “It’s all about how we bounce back. I have confidence we can find ways to compete in the [CIF Southern Section] playoffs.”
A winner from Mark Hopkins gave the Bears a 19-14 advantage and it ballooned to 22-14 and 23-14 on consecutive kills from Harris.
A tapper from Burras made it 24-16, but the Bulldogs came within 24-19, but a serve from Jimenez was off target for the final point of the set.
Considering what both schools had to endure because of the pandemic and the shortened season, each performed at a high level and each will have a chance to advance in the playoffs.