SAN ANTONIO — All season long, the Santa Rosa Warriors had battled against the odds.
After advancing to the state semifinals last season, no one expected them to make a return trip this year, especially after a somewhat slow start to the 2017-18 campaign.
But the team didn’t listen to the naysayers and went on to win another district title and qualify for another postseason.
Once in the playoffs, that’s when the Warriors suddenly came to life and rolled to yet another state final four.
On Thursday afternoon, the Warriors showed their fighting spirit as they overcame an 18-point deflect in the second half of their Class 3A state semifinal against Mount Vernon.
Senior Ryan Perez hit a big 3-pointer then Jay Guerra followed that up with a steal that Perez laid in for a basket to cut the lead to one at 53-52 with 3:01 left in the contest.
Unfortunately, that was as close as the Warriors got. Mount Vernon’s Brandon Aguilar drilled a 3-pointer of his own that put the Tigers up 56-52 and sealed the Warriors’ fate in a 63-54 loss in front of a boisterous and supportive Santa Rosa crowd at the Alamodome.
“The kids kept fighting like they have all year,” said Warriors coach Johnny Cipriano. “Some shots didn’t go our way and we made some noise, but it wasn’t enough. We knew (Brandon) Aguilar was their (Mount Vernon’s) shooter and he kept getting open, and I wanted to focus in on him, but he still managed to make big shots toward the end.”
The Warriors, who were making their fifth state tournament appearance, finished the season with a 24-15 record.
Santa Rosa fell behind early 10-0 and couldn’t find its rhythm in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Tigers shot an impressive 58 percent from the floor and drilled four 3-pointers in the opening period.
“We started off slow and a lot of us played scared, and that hurt us in the beginning and that allowed them to get a big lead,” said senior AB Lozoya. “In the second half we settled down and played our game, but we came up just short.”
Lozoya finished the game with team high 20 points and was the Warriors’ go-to guy in the second half.
One difference that allowed the Warriors to make the comeback was points off turnovers. The Warriors scored 20 points off of turnovers and 14 of those points came in the fourth quarter.
In the final period, the Warriors outscored the Tigers 22-13 and refused to back down. Adam Cavazos hit a pair of 3s that cut into the lead at 52-43 midway through the quarter. Lozoya then followed with a pair of free throws that cut the lead down to 52-47 with four minutes left.
“We’re not the biggest team out there, but we have the biggest heart,” Cipriano said. “What they did today was what they have been doing all year and I’m proud of them.”
Senior Ryan Perez, who transferred to Santa Rosa last year from Gonzales, finished with 14 points as he wrapped up his short but successful run as a Warrior.
“Playing for Santa Rosa has been great; they were like family to me,” he said. “I thank Coach for giving me the opportunity to play on such an amazing team.”