It seems you have inadvertently created a closure.
If you use local $ret = ''; in that sub, things should work.
Note, however, that by "work" I don't mean that it will return "22.214.171.124.1." It will only return 1 when the ^(a) portion of the regex matches. That's because, if it doesn't match, the regex engine returns right away and never gets to your code assertion.
"My two cents aren't worth a dime.";
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