PHOENIX — Yet another heartbreak will continue to sting for the Flowing Wells Lady Caballeros, who fell in Tuesday’s 5A Championship to the Millennium Tigers for the second consecutive year.
It was a rough night for the Cabs, who looked battered and banged up during the game, falling to the Tigers 46-28.
“It certainly wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure,” Flowing Wells Coach Michael Perkins said.
While it would be easy for Flowing Wells to hang its head in defeat, it is instead embracing the opportunity to learn from this game in hopes of returning next year.
“We’ll try to come back next year again,” said junior center Sydney Lomeli-Capen, who eclipsed 500 career rebounds in the game. “Third time’s a charm.”
The Lady Caballeros, who finished 29-2, put up quite the fight this season to snag the top spot among 5A girls. In AIA regular-season play, Flowing Wells put up an impressive record of 18-0, which doesn’t include holiday tournament play in its power ratings. The girls lost to Perry in a Thanksgiving tournament early in the season, but went undefeated at their home tournament to win the event over winter break.
Despite entering the game as the No. 3 seed, the Tigers roared their way to their fourth consecutive championship behind an explosive night by sophomore Ellie Guiney and senior Trayanna Crisp.
Crisp, who is a future Arizona State player, returned to Millennium in the offseason after transferring to a prep school.
She noted how she realized she’d rather have the chance to play with the girls she spent her whole career with and how she’d like to help win another title.
And while Millennium’s record wasn’t squeaky clean entering the playoffs, the Tigers clearly learned everything they needed in defeat to ultimately repeat as champions.
Leading up to the state championship, Millennium second-year coach Kevin Thomas said he hoped the Tigers’ tough competition in tournament play would help give them the edge they needed over the Lady Cabs.
Flowing Wells looked like it was going to set the tone early, with junior Leamsi Acuña opening things up with a three to put the Cabs on the board first.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long after tipoff for things to start unraveling, as a slew of poor shots and carelessness with the ball resulted in Millennium jumping out to a 10-5 lead to end the first quarter. It wasn’t close for long, though, as the Tigers were able to work their way to a significant lead to start the second, as Guiney started to find her stride.
Millennium’s defense continued to force Flowing Wells to take bad shots and cause disruption on the floor, making it tough for the Lady Cabs to work their way to the rim.
Not to mention the Tigers’ ability to capitalize on the erratic ball handling by the Cabs, allowing them to run time off the clock even if they weren’t able to score off every turnover.
“I felt like we did a lot of good things in the first half,” said Perkins, who coached Flowing Wells to a state title in 2008. “They were one-for-11 from three, so it was keeping us in the ball game, but we gave up too many offensive rebounds that led to other easy points or a foul.”
Going into the half, Millennium had secured a 25-15 lead. At the rate the game was going, the energy and momentum inside the arena all was behind the Tigers.
“We just never got a flow offensively,” Perkins said. “A couple buckets here, a couple buckets there, but nothing that could start a fire or light a run.”
The third quarter was when the Tigers were really able to start sinking their teeth into the Lady Caballeros.
It seemed the ladies couldn’t buy a basket, going 0-for-15 from the field during the eight-minute stretch, and the turnovers continued to mount as the Lady Cabs’ frustrations grew. Despite Millennium shooting only 29 percent from the field, it still was able to push the lead to 38-15 at the end of the third quarter.
Millennium had essentially secured the championship, knowing it just needed to run out the clock at this point to get the win.
Things only started to sting worse for the Lady Cabs when Lomeli-Capen went down on the court with just under six minutes remaining to play on a non-contact injury. After a referee timeout so the medical staff could attend to her, she was helped off the floor to the bench, where she remained with ice on both sides of her knee for the remainder of the game.
“I was trying to make sure that I was okay, but then I’m also frustrated because I can’t help my team anymore,” Lomeli-Capen said. “That’s the only bad part.”
Flowing Wells continued to fight back, putting up 13 in the final quarter, but unfortunately it was too little, too late. The 18 turnovers in the game, paired with the over eight minutes without scoring, would be too much to overcome for the Lady Cabs.
Absolutely dominating things on the court Tuesday was Guiney, who finished the game with a double-double. She had 14 points and 13 rebounds alongside two assists and a block. Crisp had 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
Meanwhile for Flowing Wells, Navine Mallon was the most aggressive player of the night.
While she might not have dominated on the stat sheet, Mallon brought the intensity to the court they were looking for among a number of the other players. She finished up with five points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Acuña was the only player to break into double-digit points with 11, along with three rebounds, three assists and a steal.
“Navine is a pro,” Perkins said, touching on how much she means to the team.
“She has so much confidence in herself, yet is so critical of herself,” Perkins said. “When things are hard, she steps up for the challenge and that fight, but when things don’t go well for her, she’s hard on herself… She’s playing hard, she’s playing well, and she’s the type of kid that other people want to play with. That’s a high compliment for a kid like that.”
While it’s an upsetting way to send out the four seniors on the Flowing Wells team, Perkins discussed how excited he is to have such a strong nucleus of girls (Acuña, Mallon and Lomeli-Capen) returning next year to keep pushing the program to excel.
“I just love these kids,” Perkins said. “I love basketball. I love our school, Flowing Wells, they take great care of us. The community, they showed up to all these games with the playoffs at home and they showed up tonight, and they’ve been so supportive. That’s motivation to keep doing what we do.”
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07