No. 1 Flowing Wells reaches 5A state title game behind chemistry & work ethic

Michael Perkins has coached Flowing Wells back into the 5A state title game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Flowing Wells will get the opportunity to avenge last year’s loss to Millennium in the 5A state championship game when the schools meet for the title Tuesday in Phoenix.

Judging from the open celebration on the court following Wednesday’s semifinal win over Gilbert, it does not matter the opponent the Lady Caballeros are playing.

Michael Perkins’ team is locked in and loose (a dangerous combination) heading into the showdown with Millenium at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Leamsi Acuña, a former gymnast who is arguably the best point guard in the state (any classification), was doing backflips through a line of her teammates after the 55-48 victory over Gilbert at Flowing Wells’ gym.

In the postgame huddle, Perkins and his players spent a good deal of time discussing what he would bring to the morning practice Friday. Bagels and orange juice were part of the discussion.

“Off the court, too, we build a lot of chemistry, so on the court, it’s even more fun,” said junior wing Navine Mallon, who had 12 points against Gilbert, including two free throws with 24.5 seconds left that gave Flowing Wells a two-possession lead.

“When we need to be serious, we’re serious. When we want to have fun, we have as much fun as we want.”

The core of that fun — and ferocity — is Mallon, Acuña and post player Sydney Lomeli-Capen. Their spirited and effective play impacts their teammates to play the same.

There’s no better “Big Three” in terms of their value.

“The chemistry we’ve built with each other and the way we overcome our problems, it’s just amazing,” Acuña said. “Just knowing they’re going to be there for me, the family, it really helps us. I have trust in my team. I know we can get that ring.”

Lomeli-Capen was unguardable when she took over the game on the blocks in the third quarter, scoring eight consecutive points off feeds from Acuña in a 10-2 run that provided Flowing Wells separation from Gilbert after the teams were tied at 29 at the half.

“I’ve been working really hard with my main guard Leamsi. I’ve been working really hard with her to try to get those screen and rolls down,” said Lomeli-Capen, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “We’ve been working hard with our other shooting guard Navine to get that in-and-out really easy and she’s a post player as well so she can do as good.

“I think us working together on defense and talking and doing everything we need to do helped us win this game.”

The chemistry Acuña, Mallon and Lomeli-Capen bring to this team is as impactful as their skills, and that has Perkins on the brink of another championship.

The 17-year coach, who recently won his 300th game and is 301-190, knows all about building and coaching a dominant team that can sustain through tough setbacks and ultimately win it all.

His 2007-08 state title team finished 33-1 and featured a Big Three as well — Abyee Maracigan, Azya Peoples and Nicole Leon.

Flowing Wells, the No. 1 seed in the 2008 state tournament, is the top seed now heading into the title game against No. 3 Millennium (20-9).

Maracigan and that group knocked on the door with a 2006 state title appearance and by making it to the 2007 semifinals before busting through with the title in 2008 (a 56-24 win over Marana).

Flowing Wells, featuring standout leader MiLinda Arguellez, lost in last year’s championship to Millennium 62-39.

The Lady Caballeros have lost only one time since, against Gilbert Perry in a holiday tournament in late November.

A large and vociferous crowd was on hand for Flowing Wells’ win over Gilbert (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“It’s chemistry — it’s the kids playing together, they’ve grown up together,” Perkins said. “All week, it has been, ‘Hey coach, can we stay after (practice) a few minutes extra.’ They’re working on that dribble-pass (between Acuña and Lomeli-Capen).

“They’ve put in the time and it shows.”

Flowing Wells and Gilbert were evenly matched a minute into the third quarter when the game was tied at 31 following a post move by Lomeli-Capen.

The basket started a 10-2 run for the Lady Cabelleros — with eight of the points scored by Lomeli-Capen around the basket — that gave them a 39-33 lead with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter.

An 11-0 run capped by a crossover dribble and made jumper by Acuña put Flowing Wells ahead 50-35 with 4:50 remaining.

Acuña on a few occasions went to a quick and stifling crossover dribble that left her defender stumbling, and she either made the shot afterward or assisted an opponent for a basket.

When asked how long she has worked on the crossover dribble, Acuña said, “All summer. It’s all work and it’s hours and hours and hours in the gym, but it’s all worth it. … Watching all those basketball reels you see on Instagram really helps. I like watching those videos before I get into the game to have that memory in my head. I get in the game and I just do it. It’s definitely all the work I’ve put in during the summer.”

Gilbert went on a 13-1 run that cut the lead to 51-48 with 37 seconds left on Nicole Evenson’s 3-pointer.

Flowing Wells had four turnovers and two missed shots during the stretch and Gilbert took advantage of the situation by making 6 of 9 shots from the field.

Mallon was fouled with 24.5 seconds left with a chance to make it a two-possession game with two free throws. She missed both attempts in a previous trip to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.

Mallon swished both attempts to give Flowing Wells a 53-48 lead.

Acuña was fouled after grabbing a rebound and she made two free throws to seal the victory.

“This team in particular, I love that we’re balanced,” Perkins said. “One night (Acuña) is taking over the game from start to finish. Other nights, it’s pound the ball into Syd. Other nights, it’s Navine doing everything. Other nights, it’s Kayla (Bailey) stepping up off the bench.

“It’s nice that on any given night a kid can show up and we trust that kid to do their job and get the best shot for our team and put us in a winning position. They’ve done that all season long.”

Leamsi Acuña has established herself as one of the top point guards in the state (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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