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Stevens punctuates Ripons miracle finish
BBSK--Union Mine-Ripon pic 1
Ripon guard Cole Stevens blasts by the Union Mine defense on Wednesday. The Indians later won the postseason opener 68-66 on Stevens half-court, buzzer-beating 3-pointer. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

RIPON — From the time a basketball player can dribble, he dreams of the day when he fires up a half-court shot at the buzzer for the win in front of the home crowd. Cole Stevens got to live that dream Wednesday night.

In opening-round action of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs at Ripon High, visiting Union Mine of El Dorado had what appeared to be a comfortable 12-point lead over the No. 8 Indians with 1:59 remaining in the game. Three highlight-reel drives by Aaron Paschini helped propel Ripon to a 13-2 run to come within a point with 5.0 seconds remaining.

Forced to foul, the Indians sent the No. 9 Diamondbacks to the line with 3.8 seconds left. The front end of a one-and-one clanged off the rim and despite an injured knee Cody Haines secured the rebound and fired the outlet to Stevens at the deep wing.

Stevens dribbled twice and with the clock nearing zero he launched an arcing prayer from his own back court. The buzzer sounded as the ball was nearing the basket and then the ball slammed off the glass and fired through the net for the thrilling 68-66 Ripon win.

“I have had that happen to us too many times,” Indians coach Rod Wright said of the buzzer-beating ending. “I am not really used to having it the other way around.  That is the first time as a head coach I have ever won a game on a 3-pointer from half court.

“They had us beat. We just pulled it out at the end.”

Stevens had three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points.

“We knew that once we got the ball we would have to kick it up,” Stevens said. “Coach wanted me in the corner but I could only get to half court and that was one of those practice shots you always mess around on. You just need to feel confident – it was all confidence.

“It was an up-and-down game. We came back and made some free throws. It was a good team win.”

One of Paschini’s thrilling shots came with 54 seconds remaining. A miss by Ripon (23-5) was headed out of bounds when Kole Gonzales dove for the ball and fired it back into play blindly  between his legs. Paschini – who led all scorers with 26 points – grabbed the loose ball and banked it in to bring the Indians within 64-61.

“In the fourth quarter coach wanted me to take it to the basket if it was open and maybe draw a foul or else dish it back out to Cole (Stevens),” Paschini said. “I just knew Cole was going to hit that last shot. It felt perfect.”

Paschini converted a three-point play to tie the game at 64-64 with 40 seconds to go. Union Mine (17-11) went ahead 66-64 with 18 seconds remaining, and Paschini hit one of two free throws with 5.0 seconds showing on the clock. 

Haines aggravated his injured knee in the fourth quarter so Wright tried to have him on the court primarily for offense. Despite being hobbled, Haines had a double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds along with two steals.

The Diamondbacks took the lead at 8-6 in the first quarter on one of five first-period shots from behind the arc. Union Mine had just one more 3-pointer in the first half but was lights out from the free-throw line, going 9 of 11 to take a 39-27 halftime lead. Ripon would not lead again until the final buzzer.

The Indians were not mentally in the game in the first half.

“They had us frustrated and playing out of our game,” Wright said. “We went in at halftime and our adjustment was to just keep our head in the game. We were off-balance mentally in the first half.

“At the end I told Cole he was going to be the guy to hit the 3-pointer to either win the game, tie it or we are going to lose. He has been that guy for us all season. I am just amazed we came back and won the game.”

Andrew Vaughn led the Diamondbacks with 22 points. Teammates Sonny Garcia added 21 and Bradley Brittain 14. 

Ripon continues the playoffs Friday night in Modesto against top-seeded Central Catholic at 7 p.m.