BURBANK — An automatic CIF Southern Section playoff berth was on the line for the Burbank High boys' basketball team Thursday night.
Already eliminated from postseason contention, the players for Burroughs took the court without their coach, as Allan Ellis was absent and members of the school's administration declined to comment about the reason.
Even with their playoff motivation, the Bulldogs had problems putting away the pesky Indians in the cross-town rivalry meeting. Burbank was able to hold off Burroughs down the stretch to earn a 59-51 Pacific League victory on the road.
With the win, coupled with Crescenta Valley defeating Arcadia (10-12, 6-8), 60-57, Burbank (17-10, 7-7 in league) secured fourth place and with it the final automatic playoff berth from the league.
"First we wanted to play well, because every game is a learning experience," said Burbank coach Jamayne Potts, whose squad advanced to the Division III-AA championship game and the Southern California Regional semifinals a year ago. "But we also knew that we could clinch fourth with the win.
"We talked about it a few games ago after the loss to Muir that we wanted to control our own destiny as far as the playoffs are concerned. We didn't want to worry about what other teams were doing, but just make sure we win our final two games."
Stepping up to lead Burbank was Erik Harutyunyan, who poured in a game-high 23 points to go along with five rebounds. Sevak Mkrtchyan added 12 points and Xavier Davis chipped in with eight.
Burroughs (13-14, 4-10) finished seventh in league.
"I give our kids all the credit in the world for the way they played today," said Burroughs assistant coach Scott Koulouvaris. "They have had to deal with a lot of injuries and a lot of adversity this year.
"I just think without their coach leading them in their last game, I think they dwelled on that a little bit and I think it was a hard thing for them to get over. A lot of these kids were shocked when they found about their coach, as was I. I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of and they went out there and gave the best effort that they could."
The Indians put their shock aside and played well against the Bulldogs in the first quarter. Burroughs jumped out to a 6-1 lead and ended the stanza with a one-point advantage, 15-14.
But the Bulldogs made a move in the second quarter, beginning on a 10-0 run to take a 25-15 lead with 5:56 left. Burbank outscored Burroughs, 17-12, in the second and had a four-point advantage at halftime, 31-27.
The Bulldogs made another run in the early going of the third and, when Tyrese Willis hit a bucket at the 3:56 mark, the Burbank advantage swelled to 41-29. The Bulldogs ended the third up by nine, 43-34.
"In a game like this with so many people watching, I just tried to stay calm and treat it like just another basketball game," Harutyunyan said. "This was probably the most nervous I've ever been before a game and I tried not to think about it.
"We all knew we needed to win this game to get into the playoffs and that was our mentality tonight."
In the fourth, Burroughs didn't fold. And when Zion Bazzell (12 points) connected on a three-pointer with 3:40 remaining, the lead had been whittled down to 49-43. But the Bulldogs countered and went up 57-47 with 1:39 left on a basket by Harutyunyan.
Omar Searcy added 11 points, Amir Montgomery had nine points and eight rebounds and Quentin Roberts chipped in with eight points for the Indians.
The win completed a season sweep of their rival by the Bulldogs, who defeated the Indians, 61-46, on Jan. 19.