SANTA ROSA — The Santa Rosa Warriors are back in the UIL Class 3A state basketball tournament for the fifth time in program history.
All season long, the Warriors proved their doubters wrong and if there was any doubt as to how special this year’s team is, this past weekend at the Region IV-3A tournament put all those doubts to rest.
The Warriors entered this past weekend’s games as underdogs, but came out victorious against both Marion and San Antonio Cole.
From Ryan Perez’s unforgettable buzzer beater against Marion to AB Lozoya’s 34-point performance against Cole, the Warriors have earned their spot in today’s state tournament.
“This team continues to fight,” said Warriors coach Johnny Cipriano. “They don’t give up; they have been fighting throughout the playoffs. A lot of people didn’t see us making it this far, so making it this far and back to state is special.”
The Warriors will look to slay another giant when they face Mount Vernon at 3 p.m. today at the Alamodome with a chance to secure a spot in the state championship on Saturday.
“This means so much to us to make it back to the state tournament,” Lozoya said. “After we lost last year, I thought about coming back and having a different outcome. It feels great to see all our work pay off and making it back to state. It’s extra special this year because it is my senior season. I’m hoping to play with more confidence this time in the Alamodome. It will be a little bit easier to shoot there and I will be comfortable with the atmosphere, and won’t feel as much pressure.”
How they got here: Santa Rosa defeated Bishop 75-43 in the bi-district round and then cruised past Goliad 90-61 in the area round. The Warriors followed those wins with a victory over 23rd ranked Corpus Christi London thanks to a 40-point outing from Lozoya. Then in the regional tournament, they beat Marion 37-35 and finally punched their ticket to the state final four with a 80-66 win against Cole.
Mount Vernon, which is out of District 13-3A and Region II, enter today’s game with a 34-1 record and has won 21 in a row. The team’s last loss came on Dec. 17 to Pittsburg 65-55.
Despite the Tigers’ impressive statistics, the Warriors are determined to not let that bother them.
“I do my best to keep the kids focused and level-headed and for us to keep doing the same things we did throughout the week,” said Cipriano. “The older guys like AB and Jay (Guerra) are not very vocal, but they lead by example.”
Perez has made Santa Rosa home and is ready to lead the Warriors at state
SANTA ROSA — Ryan Perez moved from Gonzales, Texas, to Santa Rosa this past summer and didn’t know what to expect.
The 6-foot-4 forward moved to the Valley to spend his senior season with his family and decided to join the Warriors basketball team.
Ironically, basketball wasn’t Perez’s first love. Football is his true passion. Perez idolized quarterback Peyton Manning and was dead set on becoming a star on the gridiron.
However, he soon realized football wasn’t the sport for him and was encouraged to try basketball.
“At first, I did not like the idea of playing basketball,” Perez said. “People wanted me to try it out because I’m tall for my age. It was difficult to learn the game and I had the ugliest shooting form. I would even get laughed at because of how bad my shot looked.”
Despite the slow start to his hoops career, Perez was determined to adjust his game and go all in over the summer when he joined the Warriors summer league team. That is where he met teammate AB Lozoya, Jonah Agado, Chris Flores and the rest of the Warriors.
“He (Ryan) is very fundamentally sound,” said Warriors coach Johnny Cipriano. “It took him a while to find his role and learn the system. He needed time to learn and see where he fits in, and it took us longer than we thought, but we’re gelling and clicking at the right time. We had a few close calls in district play, but as a team we’re playing at a high level right now in the playoffs.”
Perez found his role on the team and the chemistry began to click, especially during the postseason.
“The team accepted me as one of its own,” Perez said. “When I first moved here, I didn’t understand their lingo or inside jokes. Over time, I caught on and learned and now I’ll even crack a joke with them these days. Moving here to Santa Rosa has been great and I have fallen in love with the city, and I feel like I have lived here my whole life.”
And if Perez wasn’t considered a true member of the community, his performance at this past weekend’s Region IV-3A tournament changed all that.
Perez’s last-second, game-winning bucket against Marion in the regional semifinals made him a legend and endeared him to not just those in Santa Rosa, but the entire Valley.
“After the shot, people have been telling me how awesome it was,” he said. “They have been giving me all the credit, but I tell them it was all my team that helped me set up that shot. We did it as a team and we still have some unfinished business this weekend.”
Perez and the Warriors will play for a shot at the 3A state title game today against Mount Vernon.
“This playoff run has been fun,” Perez said. “It’s special to me because this is my first time experiencing the playoffs and being able to make the state tournament is special. We were not expected to make it this far, but we have to keep fighting with our underdog spirit.”