BURBANK — A jubilant group of Burbank High baseball team met pitcher Ricky Perez on the mound shortly after he recorded a strikeout that secured a 4-1 victory against rival Burroughs on Friday.
With the win, the Bulldogs clinched a share of the Pacific League title — the program's first since 1991.
With equally high stakes in the other dugout, a disappointed Indians' squad saw their league-title hopes squandered, despite matching the Bulldogs' will in a well-played game at Burroughs.
Both teams will prep for the CIF Southern Section playoffs, but for Burbank Coach Bob Hart and the Bulldogs, they weren't thinking about the future as they celebrated one of the biggest wins in the program's recent history.
"They're gamers," an emotional Hart said after the win that gave the team its first title in 22 years. "They refuse to lose games, and they just come through late in games. I couldn't be more proud."
Unfortunately for Burbank (17-8, 12-2 in league), it will have to share the victory with Crescenta Valley (20-7, 12-2), who came back in dramatic fashion Friday to defeat Arcadia (19-8, 10-4), 5-4. Burroughs (16-11, 10-4) came into the game with the Bulldogs one game behind, and tied for third with the Apaches.
The scenarios resulted in a playoff atmosphere in front of a capacity crowd that witnessed Burbank score all four of its runs in the first and second innings — two of them unearned.
Perez doubled to right-center to lead off the game, and advanced to third on a Luis Pereyra balk. An error at second base on what should have been an inning-ending double play allowed Perez to score to put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.
Perez scored again in the second inning on Dylan Mersola's two-run double that also plated Chris Okimoto.
Earlier in the inning, Angel Roman reached first base after a pop-up was dropped at home plate and scored on John White's bunt single.
Facing a four-run deficit, Pereyra settled down and allowed just two hits and no walks the rest of the way. Unfortunately for the senior pitcher and the Indians, Burbank's starter, Angel Villagran, pitched a solid game himself and had stellar defense behind him.
"We emphasize playing catch," Hart said of the team's defense. "Angel is a warrior on the hill. He has the heart of a lion."
Villagran walked four batters and allowed four hits in six innings of work, but didn't give up an earned run. Burroughs threatened with a rally in the fourth inning on back-to-back singles from Jimmy Cramer and Akira Abderrahman that had the runners on second and third base on a mishandled ball to left field.
Cramer scored on an error that also had Indians on the corners. Villagran than charged home plate on Pereyra's sacrifice bunt attempt and was able to get the ball to Hector Rodriguez in time for the tag on Abderrahman.
Burroughs managed one hit thereafter, as pitching and defense prevailed on both sides.
"We came out knowing we can beat them," said Perez, who had four hits, two runs and earned the save in a relief appearance. "We beat them the first time, even though we had to come back, and we came out with a bang.
"Everybody was on their game today."
Despite getting the loss, Pereyra pitched a complete game gem and kept his team within striking distance.
"I'm proud of my boys defensively," Indians Coach Kiel Holmes said. "From the third inning on, we shut them down, but you can't give a team extra opportunities especially when the season comes down to this game. Luis pitched one hell of a game, one of the best I've seen."
Burbank hadn't won a league title since being a part of the old Foothill League. An overwhelmed and relieved Hart was quick to share the credit.
"We played a lot of baseball this season from the summer until now," he said. "Give them all the credit. My coaching staff is the best in the league."