ALICE — The San Perlita Trojans held the lead at the end of just one quarter in their Class 1A regional quarterfinal game against Nordheim, but it was the only lead that counted.
San Perlita put together another comeback performance to clinch a 61-57 victory over the Pirates and punch its ticket to the regional semifinal round. The Trojans didn’t have their best shooting performance in the back-and-forth contest, but they showed their fight to overcome the woes and earned the hard-fought win.
“I never questioned it, I never doubted them just because we’ve been in this situation before,” Trojans coach Nataniel Garza said. “What I’m most proud of is we found a way to win. We didn’t play our best ball, we probably had our worst shooting performance today out of all season, but we found a way. I was proud of their resilience. They kept believing, and we gave ourselves a chance at the end and we were able to make a couple extra plays to win that ballgame.”
Nordheim leaned on its size down low to take a 17-13 lead after the first quarter. Marcus Farmer scored eight points during the opening frame as the Pirates fed him inside and he cleaned up misses on the offensive boards. Deric Torres and Braylon Williams contributed seven points and led a defensive effort that kept San Perlita off-balance.
James Herrera (21 points), Diego Ortiz (eight) and Benny Gutierrez energized the Trojans and exerted extra effort to keep the score close. A nice pass from Ortiz to the speedy Herrera under the basket gave San Perlita its first lead inside two minutes remaining in the first.
Max Graciani came in off the bench and immediately made his presence known. He blocked several shots and battled for rebounds to help the Trojans stay competitive. Graciani challenged Farmer defensively, holding Nordheim’s big man to two points during the second quarter.
“I could’ve played better on offense, but defensively I felt like I was there, I was ready for anything. No one was going to test me,” Graciani said. “Last year we had Tige Johnson on our team and I would practice against him, so (playing against Nordheim’s size) was hard, but not as hard as guarding Tige.”
Samuel Conde (nine) and Ely Terry (10) contributed to the pesky San Perlita defense and cashed in on turnovers to give the Trojans a slim lead late in the half. But a 4-0 run by Nordheim to end the second quarter kept the Pirates on top 29-26 at halftime.
Conde knocked down a 3-pointer to give the edge back to the Trojans, 31-29, early in the third quarter. Nordheim responded by going on a 13-0 run to force a San Perlita timeout and fire up the Pirates’ team and crowd. Torres, Williams and Farmer combined to score all 17 points in the frame to put Nordheim up 46-39 heading to the fourth.
“We knew they were going to make a run. They’re a good team, they’re a well-coached team and they do a good job,” Garza said. “But we knew being down 11 is not really a lot for us … the way we can shoot. I just told them to keep at it, defend, one possession at a time. Our goal was to, by the end of the third quarter, just have it a single-digit ballgame and I knew we’d have a chance.”
San Perlita’s defense tightened up during the final eight minutes. Graciani and Terry worked hard to seal up the paint, control the rebounding and keep Farmer (18) from scoring. Herrera, Ortiz, Conde and Gutierrez kept Nordheim’s Torres (17) and Williams (18) contained, applying tight pressure and not allowing any good looks.
Herrera’s non-stop offensive attack resulted in the senior scoring 12 points in the fourth to lift the Trojans to victory. He drained a 3-pointer to give San Perlita a one-point lead with 3:45 to play and continued to play suffocating defense and drive tirelessly to the basket to answer Nordheim’s buckets and lead his team to the Sweet 16.
“I kept talking to (my teammates), telling them, ‘We can do this,’” Herrera said. “We just needed one to get us going. I know we didn’t shoot really good, but I told the guys to keep driving and it would make us win. It feels amazing. I didn’t play very well, I can do way better. But a win’s a win.”
Though this isn’t the first regional semifinal berth in San Perlita’s storied history, Garza said this time around, it means a little more.
“This one here is a little extra special just because everybody counted us out in the beginning of the year,” Garza said. “We graduated some special players and a lot of people counted us out, didn’t choose us to win our district, and these kids wanted to prove something. I wanted to do my best to help them prove that. That group in the locker room right now has earned this. We’ve been through so much adversity. We don’t question their heart. They have a huge heart, and I’m proud of them.”