SEGUIN — For the second time in as many days, the Santa Rosa Warriors stormed back after falling into a double-digit hole. Unfortunately, this time their magic ran out.
After trailing by as many as 22 in the second half, Santa Rosa junior Leo Lara found the ball in his hands with his team down one and 23 seconds to play.
Unfortunately for Lara, he missed a shot inside of the arc and after an offensive rebound, missed a three from the deep right corner as the Warriors fell to Aransas Pass 68-67 in the Region IV-3A finals on Saturday afternoon at the Goldie Harris Gym at Seguin High School.
Lara scored 16 in the second half and 28 in the game to lead the Warriors, but the feeling of missing a last-second shot that would have sent the Warriors to the state tournament was all too familiar to the junior guard.
“The only thing I saw was the basket and I really thought it was going to go in,” Lara said of the game’s final shot. “In the end, it was just like the game against Brownsville Veterans. It’s been a great season and I love my team, the coaches and all those guys; we’re going to keep working hard because we wanna come back next year.
“The goal is to come back next year and win state, not just get to this point.”
Aside from that, the Warriors had other missed opportunities late.
AB Losoya, who scored 14 points and racked up eight steals to keep the Warriors within striking distance and tied the game on a pair of freebies with 3:52 to go, fouled out and Lara, after being fouled on a three, missed one of the three free throws.
Making all three would’ve put the Warriors ahead by a point with 47 seconds to play.
That, combined with multiple missed layups on the day, was the difference to head coach Johnny Cipriano — not the lack of effort.
“I told the guys at half that we’ve been down 20 and this is where they like to be, so they should be comfortable,” Cipriano said. “I told them I didn’t care if they all fouled out, they had to go out there and play physical. A couple of more shots go in and we win, but we missed some layups we had there and missed quite a bit off free throws. Still, aside from those last shots, we pretty much executed.”
Early on, the Panthers’ height gave the Warriors problems as they corralled close rebounds and were able to make layups over the smaller Warrior defenders.
Aside from that, the Warriors were a bit calmer to start Saturday’s game than they were in Friday night’s win over Goliad.
Santa Rosa trailed 11-10 in the first, but Aransas Pass, led by 34 points from Coin Hale, ended the first quarter on a 15-0 run and led 42-22 at the half.
Santa Rosa once again came out of the locker room swinging and cut the lead to seven following a 19-6 run. The Warriors won the third quarter 23-10 and began to frustrate the Panthers with their half-court defense.
A 6-0 Warrior run midway through the fourth was topped off by a pair of free throws from Losoya that tied things up at 54 with 5:15 to play.
The Panthers once again took a four-point lead with two trips to the line from Hale and Matt McElroy, but Losoya stole the ball away on the Panthers’ next possession and took it to the hole and then tied the game seconds later at the line.
Unfortunately, the sophomore guard fouled out with 3:52 to play and the Panthers went up again after five straight points from Hale.
Santa Rosa senior Manny Sanchez sank a three from the left corner to bring the Warriors within two and Lara followed making 2 of 3 shots at the line to tie the game, but a free throw by Hale with 26 seconds to go proved to be the difference.
As the Panthers move on, Cipriano hopes his team draws more motivation from the loss for next season.
“It’s tough to do this and if it was easy everyone would do it,” Cipriano said. “I hope not winning this game motivates us even more. You could go either way with a game like this. I just hope the guys that are left are willing to work hard and hopefully, we’ll get back up here.”
The Warriors finished the year 26-9 and are losing six seniors to graduation, but Lara, Losoya and junior Matt Garcia are set to return.