Heading into Saturday night’s MLK Classic game, Flowing Wells and Tucson High had been going in different directions.
The Caballeros had won five straight games and 10 of their last 11 while the Badgers, who started the season 12-2, had lost four of their last six.
Despite all that, the two playoff-caliber teams looked pretty similar, and they sure played that way Saturday.
Flowing Wells senior Shalise Fernander outscored Tucson’s star sophomore Alexis Cortez with a game-high 23 points and hit a crucial free throw late to lift the Caballeros to a 50-47 win at McKale Center.
“It’s my last year to play and I want every opportunity,” Fernander said. “To play in this big arena with all these people watching is amazing. We did it last year and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Fernander hit a free throw on the front end of a one-and-one to put Flowing Wells up three with 10.4 seconds left in a game that had a total of 12 ties or lead changes.
It wasn’t locked up quite yet. Tucson junior Bailey Johnson, who scored 13 points and tied the game at 47 with 90 seconds left with a three-pointer from the right side, rushed down court and got off a shot from the same spot, but this one bounced off the rim and time eventually ran out.
“This is the moment we all live for,” Cortez said. “It was a fun game, it’s a lot of pressure, but you try to make the best decisions that you can.”
Flowing Wells had a 19-11 lead after the first quarter but let it get away by not making a field goal in the second quarter until there was less than a minute before the half. Senior Mikaela Cook, who scored 12 points, tied the game at 38 heading into the fourth quarter and put the Caballeros up for good when she sank a basket with 1:03 left in the game, making it 49-47.
“This is a good thing for us,” Flowing Wells coach Michael Perkins said. “We’re working on getting better every night and we’re hoping that this is going to lead us to better things and move us forward.”
Cortez finished the game with a team-high 19 points for Tucson.