Ian Billings | Staff Photographer

Ridge Shipley had 14 points in Cal Poly’s win over Cal State Northridge in the Big West Championship game on Saturday night.

J.J. Jenkins
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Ridge Shipley rolled off a block and caught the ball with his team trailing. Seconds were melting off the clock like a Salvador Dali painting.

One pump fake, one step to the side and one shot for the win. The ball hung in the air for an eternity. It landed inside the cylinder, rolled around.

And popped out.

The buzzer sounded and Shipley walked off the court into the arms of his coach.

But that was a year ago in the 5A Texas High School Regional Finals.

On Saturday, he found the same shot in nearly the same situation. This time, only Cal Poly’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament hung in the balance. With 15 seconds to go and the Mustangs trailing by two points, senior forward Chris Eversley kicked the ball out to the 19-year-old freshman who put up a rainbow arc.

“Time slowed down,” Shipley said. “I was like ‘Ridge, you’ve been dreaming about this shot your whole life.’ It felt like I had the ball for five seconds.”

The ball barely made a noise as it caught the back of the net, so much so that Shipley — peering through bodies that crowded the lane — thought he might have air balled it. That was until the crowd erupted.

Dreaming, envisioning. One million times he said that shot ran through his head prior to Saturday night. During his childhood, he wouldn’t leave a court until he made a shot as his mother counted down the seconds.

On Saturday, his 3-pointer put Cal Poly ahead by one point with 13 seconds to go. The Mustangs would salt away the final moments, largely because of a charge drawn by sophomore forward Zach Gordon on the opposite end of the court.

Minutes later, the nylon that popped as Shipley’s shot fell was tied around the back of his hat.

The chip Shipley said hung on his shoulder after a grinding recruiting process that saw Division I programs turn him away because of his 5-foot-11 frame, disappeared in the postgame press conference.

He said head coach Joe Callero asked him just one question while recruiting him to San Luis Obispo.

“Can you dribble, pass and shoot?” Shipley recalled.

“And I was, like, ‘Yeah,’” he deadpanned. “A lot of kids can.”

Yeah is right, but maybe not quite like Shipley.

Though highly sought after by Callero, Shipley started just three games and averaged 14 minutes per contest this season while senior point guard Jamal Johnson took the bulk of the ball handling. But the fifth-year head coach decided to ride Shipley’s hot hand in the championship.

Eleven of his 14 points came with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. None more important than the final three.

But still more than an hour after his final shot, he hadn’t gotten back to his phone in the locker room. One can only imagine how many notifications it had — if the battery was still alive, that is. But it wasn’t the gratification of his Twitter followers he wanted. It was his mom’s voice; she hadn’t been able to make it to Anaheim.

“If my parents were here I would have gotten a little emotional,” he said. “But I looked up in the stands and pictured them there. I got to hug a couple parents that I am close with, just so it could feel like I was hugging my mom.”

“Three. Two. One,” she used to say as Shipley tried to hit that buzzer-beater to end his morning practice before school.

If Shipley missed, she would bounce the ball back to him and count down once again.

But on Saturday night, that wouldn’t have been neccessary.

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