BURBANK — With a win in its last game, coupled with a loss by Pasadena, the Burroughs High boys' soccer team rose back to the top of the Pacific League standings. But to ensure that they stayed there, the Indians would have to beat a scrappy fourth-place Muir squad that had won three straight contests.
The perch atop the league seemed perilous, as Burroughs trailed at the break, but the Indians got two second-half goals from striker Milosh Petko to pull out a 2-1 victory Tuesday afternoon at Memorial Field.
"That was a tough game. It was a very tough game," Burroughs Coach Mike Kodama said. "We got the two big goals from Milosh to come back. We had to keep our composure and just play for the moment."
The comeback win for Burroughs (15-3-4, 10-1-2 in league) — ranked No. 6 in CIF Southern Section Division III — means the defending champion of the Pacific League now has 32 points and sole possession of the top spot with one game to go. This came to pass after Pasadena, the co-leader coming in, played Arcadia to a scoreless tie Tuesday, putting the Bulldogs at 30 points.
"Without this win, I don't think we would be [in the position to be] league champs," said Petko, who also scored Burroughs' only goal in a 1-0 win at Muir earlier this season. "So, we needed this win a lot. This is the biggest big game for us today."
The Indians can clinch their second straight league title with a victory against cross-town rival Burbank on Thursday.
The contest was deadlocked at 1-1 with just over eight minutes to play when Burroughs broke through to take the lead for the first time. Working on the left side going in, Indians midfielder Brandon Gerlach slid a pass through the Mustangs defense to Petko, who immediately shot the ball across the face off the goal and into the back of the net for the eventual game-winner.
"Brandon gave me a lovely ball," Petko said. "He saw it and he gave it to me. I just finished it. I can't let my team down. He gave me a beautiful ball and I've just got to finish that."
The Indians had trailed, 1-0, starting the second, on the strength of a Muir (6-8-1, 5-7-1) goal by Moises Sanchez with five minutes to go before halftime.
The hosts got the equalizer nine minutes into the second half on a score by Petko. Indians Nolberto Alcantar carried the ball down the left side toward the goal and then unleashed a cross to Marcos Arana in front of the goal. The sophomore's header bounced off the crossbar, but Petko was right there to put the rebound away and knot the contest at 1-1.
After halftime, Burroughs was relentless in attacking on offense, as well as being stingy on defense. In the second 40 minutes, the Indians outshot Muir, 10-0. In addition to the assist, Gerlach, who had scored a goal in each of the three previous games, absorbed three hard fouls in the second half that saw each of the Mustangs perpetrators rung up for a yellow card.
"Heart of champions," Kodama said of his team. "The guys showed a lot to be able to come back and stay with the game plan."
Making the comeback even more impressive was the fact the Indians played the second half without their captain and anchor of the defense, Michael Conrad, who went out with a strained groin. However, the Burroughs back line stayed strong.
"We have a deep bench on our team, so we're able to fill in positions that can back [Conrad] up," said Indians defender Nick Lucero, who was back after a one-game suspension for a red card. "Luckily, Eddie [Tapia] and David Campos did a great job."
Now, the only thing standing in the way of another Pacific League title for Burroughs is a game hosting rival Burbank on Thursday. The favorable news of Pasadena's scoreless tie with Arcadia did not reach the Indians until after their victory and, when it did, a round of cheers filled the locker room.
"We've still got a long ways to go to do that," Kodama said of claiming the title outright. "Burbank will come ready, but, obviously, we're excited about that opportunity, very excited."