SEGUIN — With .5 second left on the clock and the game tied at 35, Santa Rosa senior Ryan Perez ran around a group of defenders, took the inbound pass to the left of the key, and in one continuous motion grabbed the ball and shot it toward the basket as the buzzer sounded.
As everyone in the Seguin High School gym looked on with anticipation, the ball sailed toward the basket – seemingly in slow motion- gingerly bounced off the backboard and fell through the net as the Warriors faithful erupted in utter joy and amazement.
Ballgame. Santa Rosa 37, Marion 35.
Perez, who had backpedaled toward center court after the shot, was suddenly mobbed by teammates as the Warriors celebrated a Class 3A regional semifinal victory for the third straight season.
“It was a heck of a pass. Coach drew it up and I knew I had to take the shot, but it was a perfect pass,” an elated Perez said. “They (Marion) set a good screen, but the pass was perfect. That was my first game-winning basket of my career and it just happened to be in a playoff game.”
The Warriors will now face San Antonio Cole at 1 p.m. today for a chance to play in the Class 3A state final four for the second year in a row.
Santa Rosa senior AB Lozoya, who scored 40 in the Warriors’ last outing, finished Friday’s contest with just three points, but he hit a set of free throws late that helped the Warriors keep a three-point lead until Marion’s Creet Rabenaldt buried the game-tying 3-pointer with nine seconds left.
Warriors head coach Johnny Cipriano, who often keeps trick plays in his back pocket, pulled out a doozy this time around.
“We have never run that play before,” said Cipriano. “I almost switched the in-bounder, but we got the pass in and it worked, and, hey, we look good now. I just felt like we could make the basket.
“We knew Ryan had a good matchup and he is good at those tip-ins. Sometimes he makes them, sometimes he doesn’t and fortunately for us he made it.”
Santa Rosa fell behind early 7-2 in the first quarter until Perez caught fire from beyond the arc and scored all 11 of the Warriors’ points in the opening period with nine of those points coming from 3-point land.
Perez’s hot hand continued into the second period with a pair of 3s as he finished with 17 first-half points.
After a quick-paced first half, Santa Rosa slowed things down and both defenses held each other in check with Marion outscoring the Warriors 8-5 in the third.
Perez finished the contest with a team high 23 points.
“It was an amazing play,” Lozoya said of the game-winner. “That play is made for Ryan. That shot was amazing and he was on fire all night, and I’m glad he made the shot.
“I didn’t play my best tonight, but we won and that is all that matters. We’re keeping the same mentality because we want to keep winning and make it back to state.”