SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — With a golden opportunity to take care of its league standing, Burroughs' High's boys' soccer team found few golden opportunities against host Glendale presenting themselves in Tuesday afternoon's Pacific League match.
Turns out all the Indians would need was one, and it came off the head of Francisco Baez in the 64th minute, as the Indians fended off the Nitros, 1-0, to secure second place in league.
"We had to take advantage of our opportunities," said Burroughs Coach Mike Kodama, whose team improved to 8-8-4 and 7-3-3 in league for 24 points, which, combined with a Pasadena tie with Hoover, clinched second place. "We finally took advantage of one."
Leading into the league's final day of play on Thursday, Burroughs has already clinched second behind champion Crescenta Valley, while Burbank's defeat of Arcadia on Tuesday clinched the Bulldogs a playoff spot and also moved Burbank into third with 20 points, while Pasadena has 19, meaning the only settling point left is whether or not Burbank or Pasadena will take third.
On the other end of league, Glendale (2-7-4 in league) sits in a tie with Muir for last place headed into its Thursday meeting with archrival Hoover, which is in sixth place.
Still, the Nitros hung tough all match long, which is impressive considering how trying a season it's been for a Glendale squad that had seven seniors quit during league play and has also lost two starters to grade ineligibility. With nine underclassmen on the roster, it's been a struggle, but the effort seen on Tuesday, coupled with youthful promise, has the Nitros looking ahead.
"After those players quit, we actually started to play better," Glendale Coach Tulio Marroquin said. "We have a lot of young players; it's promising for the future."
On Tuesday, though, the game was back and forth with neither team getting any great scoring chances during a scoreless first half.
After Glendale drilled a shot into the side of the net early in the second half, the Indians went on a sustained run with the scoreless stalemate preserved by Glendale keeper Christian Der Gregorian. He made four saves, but all of them were borderline spectacular, including a point-blank stop of a Brandon Gerlach shot, as the latter got loose on the left wing.
But, with nobody marking Baez tightly roughly 10 yards off the goal on a throw-in set piece, Baez headed in a 1-0 lead inside the near post with Der Gregorian having little hope of stopping the shot.
"It's about finding the gaps and the spaces," said Baez, who flicked in a throw from KC Aquino. "[He] placed a great ball into the box and I was able to find that gap."
The goal was one that was emblematic of plenty of Glendale's problems this season.
"That's been the problem we've had all year with set pieces," Marroquin said. "We've given up a lot of goals like that."
The game was hardly over, though, as Der Gregorian was forced to make another solid save in which he tipped a shot over the crossbar. But it was the Nitros who turned on the pressure late.
For the most part, though Glendale took 13 shots, the Burroughs defense held strong.
"We were very happy with how the defense played," said Kodama of the unit that included Alex Avelar-Escalante, Kevin Garcia and Ozzie Castro.
But in the late going, Indians goalie Elliott Whitecotton made three of his four saves in the final five minutes.
Glendale's Alberto Chamagua, one of three Nitros freshmen, took two shots that were saved in that span. Ara Ghazryan also took a free kick that was dying about 10 yards before the goal, forcing Whitecotton to come out to make a play. He dived late and couldn't hold onto possession, leaving a loose ball and an open net, but Aquino cleared the ball before Glendale could get a shot off.
Moments later, Whitecotton came out to deflect a point-blank ball, then as he was retreating, deflected a shot with his shoulder and then ended up batting a 50-50 ball out of bounds. Shortly after a subsequent free kick breezed past the Burroughs net, the whistle blew to end the game with the Indians walking away in second place.