By Austin Green
In his second year as Burbank High School’s head boys’ basketball coach, Sid Cooke has celebrated each major victory with a five-word mantra. He said it when the Bulldogs beat Los Angeles Shalhevet to open the season and again when they rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Crescenta Valley on the road in league play.
So when Burbank upset Santa Ana Foothill, the No. 1 seed in the CIF Southern Section 3AA bracket, 79-73 in a double-overtime thriller on Tuesday, Cooke knew exactly how to describe it.
“It’s good for our program,” said Cooke, whose team improved its overall record to 10-3 after finishing third place in the Pacific League during the regular season.
Cooke’s usual understated manner belied the thrilling, emotional heavyweight fight between two evenly matched teams that required a total team effort from the Bulldogs, playing in front of a raucous home crowd, in order to pull off the victory.
“They’ve had grit the whole year and so I’m proud of that,” Cooke said. “That’s what this team does. We just keep fighting.”
Eight different Burbank players scored, five of them in double digits. Senior guards Elmer Reyes, Phoenix Mosley and Vartan Avetisyan had 16, 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Senior forward Armen Nazaryan had 12 points and sophomore forward Sattwik Banerjee added 11. The Bulldogs also got contributions from senior forward Kelton Shea with nine points, senior guard Zachary Brown with four and senior guard Ruben Karakulyan with three.
“It’s hard for other teams to guard all five of us,” Mosley said. “That’s how we won our game. Everybody got their own.”
For the second time in three playoff games, Mosley iced it late for the Bulldogs with two free throws as time wound down in the second overtime. Mosley, Brown and Banerjee shot 12 free throws in the period, and though they only made seven of the 12, it was enough to put the game out of reach. For Mosley, it was the second time in three playoff games where he helped seal the win for the Bulldogs from the free throw line, having also done so in Burbank’s first-round game against Montclair.
“Icing the game is getting normal now,” Mosley said. “I just don’t want to let my teammates down.”
The Bulldogs were on the verge of losing in both the fourth quarter and first overtime, but survived thanks to several missed chances from Foothill and some heroics from Reyes. With under a minute to play in the fourth quarter and Burbank down four, Reyes hit a deep three-pointer — his first shot attempt of the second half — off a pass from Nazaryan.
Foothill’s Cruz Billings made just one of two free throws on the other end of the floor, but Foothill got the rebound, Burbank fouled Billings again and Billings hit just one of two again, keeping it a one-possession game and leaving Burbank with a chance.
Cooke drew up a play for Reyes coming out of the ensuing timeout, but Reyes missed the three-pointer from the top of the key and Foothill’s Caleb Billings got the rebound — only to stumble backwards into a travel violation when Mosely and Nazaryan trapped him. Reyes got the ensuing inbounds pass directly in front of Burbank’s bench and drilled his three-point attempt this time around, tying the game at 61-61 and sending it into overtime.
“I had to rely on what I know best, which is shooting,” Reyes said. “Everybody just kind of went back to what we know and what we’ve practiced as a team.”
Foothill again looked like they were pulling away in the first overtime with under a minute to go when Cruz Billings found Caleb Billings for an open layup to go up by four. But Banerjee split the defense for a layup on the other end to halve the deficit, and Reyes picked Cruz Billings’ pocket on the inbounds pass and made a 360-degree spinning layup to once again tie the game.
“I just saw that time was running out and I didn’t want to lose, so I hustled as hard as I could,” Reyes said. “I thought it was a foul, it wasn’t. Just pushed through, shot the layup then ran back on defense to make sure they don’t score again.”
The Bulldogs opened the game strong as Cooke opted to start his senior forward duo of Shea and Nazaryan. The strategy paid off quickly as Nazaryan started the scoring with a bucket and Shea hit a three-pointer, keeping Burbank in it even as the senior guard trio of Avetisyan, Moseley and Reyes went just 1 for 7 from the field in the first quarter.
Foothill was ahead for most of the opening period, but Banerjee had a quick 5-0 run off the bench to give Burbank a 13-12 lead. The Bulldogs extended that lead in the second quarter as Foothill went cold from the field, then hit their first six shots after halftime, finishing the third quarter up by eight.
But Foothill roared back in the fourth, as guard Jake Horten attacked the Bulldogs’ interior defense to drop 11 points and put the Knights up by as many as five at one point. Cruz Billings added some clutch shooting with a three-pointer early in the period and then a jumper to keep Foothill ahead as Burbank started to rally. After going a perfect 3 for 3 in the third quarter, Avetisyan missed all three of his fourth quarter shots, but Nazaryan got an offensive board and hit a jumper and Mosley hit a layup to keep Burbank within striking distance.
Even with the euphoric celebration getting underway around him, Cooke still saw plenty of ways Burbank can improve upon Tuesday’s performance. The Bulldogs shot just 17 for 27 from the free throw line, committed 24 fouls and turned the ball over 14 times.
“It’s a great win, [Foothill is] a great team, No. 1 seed… but we made too many mental mistakes,” Cooke said. “We gotta fix it up.”
The win still marks a monumental step forward for Burbank under Cooke. Before this season, the Bulldogs had not won a playoff game since they reached the 3AA sectional final in 2017.
To reach the final this year, they needed to win at Riverside Martin Luther King in last night’s semifinals. (The result was too late for The Leader’s press deadline.) A victory over MLK would propel Burbank into the CIF-SS championship game, which is tentatively scheduled to be held this coming Wednesday, June 9.