BURBANK — Defense was at the forefront, offense was borderline nonexistent and goaltending was on center stage.
And it was Burroughs High goalie Ahsha Earwood who shined brightest, as the Indians netminder nabbed 18 saves to lead the Burroughs girls' water polo team past Glendale, 5-2, on Tuesday at Burbank High in the Pacific League Tournament semifinals.
"It was very similar to the first time we played," said Nitros Coach Forrest Holbrook, whose team lost to the Indians, 8-6, previously with Earwood making 15 saves. "It was a defensive battle all game long and their goalie played a fantastic game.
"She just made save after save after save."
Burroughs (13-8, 6-1 in league) will now play Crescenta Valley in the tournament title game on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Burbank with a chance to share the league title, should it pull off the upset of the No. 1-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division V. Crescenta Valley, which defeated Pasadena, 17-4, on Tuesday, previously beat the Indians, 17-4. Glendale (10-11, 4-3) will play Pasadena in the third-place matchup at 4:30 p.m.
Leading, 3-2, late in the fourth quarter, Burroughs used a two-goal burst to seal the game, as Yesi Esparza, who had match-high three goals, scored for the second time on a rebound with 3:03 to play.
"She got two goals off that, just being able to be in the right place at the right time," said Indians Coach Danny Garcia of Esparza. "She came up huge for us."
On Glendale's ensuing possession, Emilee Holgate notched a steal for Burroughs and drew an ejection, which led to a man-advantage score by Cheyenne Morrison off a Bailey Simmons assist with 2:17 to go that essentially put the game to rest.
Alas, it was defense that was the story.
The Indians had been held scoreless prior to Esparza's final score for a span of 14 minutes 51 seconds after Esparza scored with 3:54 left in the first half to take a 3-1 lead when she hustled in for her first rebound goal.
Glendale countered with a goal by Maddie Corpuz with 2:10 remaining in the first half, but was held scoreless for the remainder of the match.
"They played a zone defense on us, which forced us to take shots from the outside and their goalie just handled it," said Holbrook, who also got a goal from Biyouregh Boghozian that cut the score to 2-1 in the first quarter after the Indians opened with goals from Sierra Marroquin and Esparza.
Overall, Glendale outshot Burroughs, 30-22, but the shots were seemingly always from a distance and when they were on frame they either hit the post or were gobbled up by Earwood, who finished with eight fourth-quarter saves.
"It's super intense," said Earwood of the pressure playing throughout a close game. "It's a one-point game, so you can't let that one point in."
For the most part, Burroughs never let any Nitros in, as the Indians carried out their game plan excellently.
"We really talked about it and spent a lot of time outside of the water talking about it and I think that really helped," said Earwood of carrying out the game plan.
Overlooked due to Earwood's brilliance was her Glendale counterpart Alenoush Aslanian, who had seven saves, including a point-blank shot.
"Our goalie played fantastic," Holbrook said. "That was a career game for Alenoush."
And, for Earwood it might well have been one, as well.
Said Garcia: "She had probably one of the best performances I've seen."