Riordan senior Geru Mabrey was starting to look like the goat in what could have been the last game of his high school career.
Down by a point to visiting Marin Catholic with 7.5 seconds on the clock in the Division IV NorCal boys’ basketball semifinals, Mabrey fumbled an inbound pass in Riordan’s half and scrambled to recover it.
With time already ticking away, Mabrey used his greatest gift — speed — to get the ball up the court and somehow got an open look from a foot beyond the free-throw line. He released the jumper from 16 feet away with time to spare and it splashed through the net as the buzzer sounded to give the Crusaders a 49-48 win and a trip to the NorCal title game.
Riordan (20-11), the No. 2 seed, will take on top-seeded Cardinal Newman in the NorCal final Saturday at American Canyon High School.
“It slipped out of my hand and coach Buck says to have confidence, so I came up and I felt it going in,” Mabrey said.
That slight bobble in the backcourt eliminated the entire play Riordan coach Rich Buckner drew up in the preceding timeout. The Crusaders were trying to get the ball to shooting guard Frankie Ferrari, who would either attempt a game-winning jumpshot, or pass off to a Riordan forward for a layup.
“The first thought in my head was ‘Play’s off’ and ‘Do your thing Geru,’” Buckner said. “That was the exact thought in my head and I think that was the exact thought in his head too.”
“I wonder if he fumbled the ball on purpose,” Buckner joked.
On the previous Riordan possession, with the score tied at 47-47, the ball was also in Mabrey’s hands and he released a desperate step-back jumper with the shot clock winding down that missed the rim entirely.
Marin Catholic (25-9) rebounded, pushed the ball upcourt and guard Patrick Conroy was fouled in the act of shooting.
Conroy made the first free throw and missed the second, which was rebounded by Riordan junior forward Zach Masoli with 15 seconds remaining.
With two fouls to give, the third-seeded Wildcats fouled Riordan guards twice well away from the basket, setting up Mabrey’s final strike.
“We got to 7.5 seconds and he fumbles it in the back court, and good players make plays,” Marin Catholic coach Mike Saia said. “I gotta believe that was the only outside shot he took and you gotta tip your hat.”
Mabrey hit a jumper late in the first quarter, but did not make another shot until the final buzzer and finished with six points. The normally sharpshooting Crusaders struggled to knock down jumpshots all night and made just 4-of-16 attempts from 3-point range, but were kept alive by forward Chiefy Ugbaja.
Ugbaja , a 6-foot-3 forward who transferred to Riordan from Oceana High School in Pacifica this school year, scored a game-high 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor, brought in a game-high 11 rebounds, blocked two crucial shots in the second half and made all three of his attempts from the floor in the fourth quarter.
“Once again Chiefy Ugbaja steps up,” Buckner said. “He’s an undersized post player [and] he gives it his all out there. … We don’t know where we’d be without Chiefy.”
Riordan led 11-8 after the first quarter, 27-23 at the half, then had it’s biggest lead at 32-23 early in the third, but Marin Catholic responded with a 11-2 run and led by as many as eight points in the third before Riordan battled back.