Submitted by Denair High School:
Winning 14 games in a row does a lot to boost a team’s confidence. But losing a game in overtime it probably should have won in regulation is a timely reminder that success is not guaranteed. Anything can happen in high school basketball.
That’s the place the Denair High boys team finds itself in halfway through the Southern League season. The Coyotes are 19-2 overall, 6-0 in league play and experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum just this week.
Monday, in a non-conference game in their own gym, the Coyotes sprinted to a 36-24 halftime lead over Natomas of Sacramento, which brought a pedestrian 9-8 record into the contest. Denair still led by 11 points after three quarters, but Natomas slowly chipped away at that margin throughout the fourth quarter.
Then Denair starters Mario Plasencia and Hayden Feldman fouled out, setting up Natomas for a last chance. Sure enough, it hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds to play, sending the game into overtime. The Coyotes never recovered and lost 76-72.
So long, 14-game winning streak.
“There was more good than bad that came out of it,” said Denair coach R.J. Henderson of the loss. “There were some lessons to be learned after that game. Now, we’re back to where we were.”
Because it was a non-league game, the loss didn’t cost Denair in the Southern League standings, where they remain on top after Wednesday’s 72-30 beat down of Waterford.
Tonight, the Coyotes begin the second half of the league schedule in Newman against second-place Orestimba (8-11, 5-1), which Denair edged 45-44 on Jan. 2.
“The top three teams could beat anyone on any night,” said Henderson, referring to his team, Orestimba and defending league champion Mariposa. “There also are some teams at the bottom that could scare some people. Delhi just took Mariposa to overtime.”
The Coyotes have succeeded this season with an egalitarian offense that comes at opponents from multiple angles. Denair doesn’t have one star; it has five or six players that on any given night could be the difference in the game.
“I think we’ve had six or seven different players lead us in scoring in games,” Henderson said. “That’s unusual. We’re tough to coach against because it’s hard to concentrate on any one player.”
The Coyotes boast five of the seven leading scorers in the Southern League. Seniors Jordan Smith-Sires (12.5 points per game), Hayden Feldman (11.7) and Jacob Kuharski (10.9) lead the way, and sophomores Cooper Feldman (8.6) and Mario Plasencia (7.2) are sixth and seventh. Smith also averages 9.3 rebounds a game.
With three weeks to go in the regular season, Denair is positioned for its first league championship since 2004 and a high seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs. The players sense that, even as Henderson warns them not to look too far ahead.
“I’ve told them we’re going to the best effort from all the opponents we beat in the first half (of league play),” he said. “The kids have to be mentally focused.
“The goal has always been to hang a (league) banner (in the gym). I’ve been here eight years; we haven’t done that in 16 years. There are three more weeks to define what this team is really about. Then we can talk about the playoffs.”