BURBANK — It was the sort of finish that had become routine for the Burbank High boys’ basketball team.
The Bulldogs had been involved in five straight playoff contests decided by two possessions or less and settled on the final one or two plays.
Tuesday evening’s CIF Southern California Regional Division IV semifinal turned into close game No. 6 for Burbank, with one important twist.
Visiting Reedley Immanuel did something only one other playoff squad had done this postseason, defeat the Bulldogs in dramatic fashion, 58-57, to end a historic season on Tuesday night at Burbank High.
With the loss, Burbank capped its season with a 25-10 record, a 6-2 playoff mark, advancement to the program’s first CIF Southern Section championship game in 91 years and the program’s furthest advancement in the CIF State tournament.
“What the team did, they changed the culture of Burbank basketball,” said Burbank Coach Jamayne Potts, who’s posted an 8-3 playoff record in just two seasons. “When I was first hired, people would send their [junior varsity] teams to play us. They wouldn’t let us into the Maxpreps Tournament. The respect and culture change they brought this program is everlasting.”
In his high school swansong, Burbank’s Michael Woods turned in fantastic defensive effort, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Henrik Anassian and Thomas Clark added seven points each for Burbank.
Burbank’s run to a Southern California Regional championship came down to a final possession.
The Bulldogs had the ball after a timeout with 6.3 seconds left and trailed, 58-57.
Unfortunately for Burbank, it did not attempt a final shot as a drive into the paint resulted in a steal by Immanuel’s Nate Kendricks, who held on until time expired.
Perhaps it was fitting that a defensive stop sealed a come-from-behind victory for the Eagles, who outscored Burbank, 19-8, in the fourth quarter to overcome a double-digit deficit. Burbank hadn’t scored less than 16 points in any other quarter.
“I think the big difference in the fourth quarter is that we got away from our movement and we started playing hero ball,” said Burbank senior guard Cameron Sweeten, who finished with six points and five assists. “We got away from execution and they got back into it.”
Burbank led, 49-39, to open the fourth and was ahead, 53-48, with just under five minutes left.
Excellent free-throw shooting (16 for 21) betrayed Burbank late, however, as the Bulldogs missed the front end of back-to-back one-plus-one tries, which gave Immanuel (23-8) life.
The Eagles responded with a 6-0 run capped on an up-and-under two-footer from 6-foot-6 senior forward Darrin Person Jr., who led all players with 34 points and five rebounds.
Person, who battled through an ankle problem, extended his team’s run to 8-0 with an eight-foot jumper with 1:23 left as Immanuel led, 56-53.
The Bulldogs still showed some moxie in scoring four straight points, the latter two on a pair of free throws from Sweeten with 17.3 seconds left that gave Burbank a 57-56 lead.
Immanuel Coach Nate McClurg didn’t hesitate in going inside to Person, who powered his way to a four-footer with 6.3 seconds left to put the Eagles on top for good.
“I walked over to my coaches and said, ‘I don’t care if we have to cut his leg off, we’re giving the ball to Darrin Person,” McClurg said. “He’s either going to make a lay-up or he’s going to make an and-one and win the game.”
Prior to the fourth quarter, Burbank had turned in a stellar defensive effort.
The Bulldogs took a 19-13 lead after one quarter on a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Faraz Khandaker.
Similarly, Tyrese Willis drained a three-pointer right before the half to give the Bulldogs a 35-26 advantage at the break.
Though Immanuel shaved its deficit to 35-33 on a three-pointer from Kendricks (19 points) with 5:24 left in the third, Burbank responded by closing out the quarter with a 14-6 spurt to take a 49-39 lead after three.
“It’s truly a blessing for all of us to get here,” Sweeten said. “I’m blessed man. I was on the bench my sophomore year. So, to be a part of this, to work to get to this point, it’s something I won’t forget.”