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Denair basketball advances to playoff semifinals
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Denair's Cooper Feldman hits a game-tying three in Wednesday's night quarterfinal victory (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Following a first-round bye, the Denair High boys basketball team kicked off its heavily-anticipated playoff run Monday night with a 57-49 victory over Aspire Langston Hughes Academy in front of a packed house. 

The win advances the No. 1-seeded Coyotes to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoff semifinal game on Wednesday night, where they’ll face their fellow Southern League foe Mariposa at home once again. Denair and Mariposa were named co-champions of the Southern League and split their season series, making the semifinal matchup one that’s sure to excite. 

The path to the semifinals wasn’t easy; the Coyotes emerged victorious following a back-and-forth contest with No. 8 Aspire Langston which saw the away team’s fans travel well, resulting in a loud Coyote gym filled to the brim with spectators. The noise and support helped the Titans soar to a 24-20 lead by halftime.

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Denair’s Izaiahs Plasencia races down the court past an Aspire Langston defender (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

“They dictated the entire first 24 minutes of the game, and that’s a credit to that coach and those kids,” Denair head coach RJ Henderson said of Aspire Langston. “We just made enough plays at the end.”

In a game filled with plenty of game-tying shots and impressive 3-pointers on both sides of the court, the Coyotes outscored the Titans 19-14 in the third period to take a 38-39 lead. The third period was capped by a go-ahead 3-pointer from senior Cooper Feldman, setting the Coyotes up to run away with the lead in the fourth period. 

It was an overall team effort for Denair. Feldman led the Coyotes in scoring on the night with 15 points and three 3-pointers, while senior Jack Henderson collected 14 points on the night with two 3-pointers of his own. Feldman also grabbed seven rebounds. Senior Mario Plasencia tallied nine rebounds and 12 points, and junior Izaiahs Plasencia scored eight points and had eight rebounds. 

After taking some risky shots in the first half, Henderson said he emphasized moving away from the 3-point line when talking to the team at halftime, instead encouraging the Coyotes to target the side of the paint. 

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Senior point guard Jack Henderson looks for an open teammate (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

“It was a very physical game and there were some kids obviously getting hurt, but it never crossed a line,” Henderson said. “It was just kids playing at a very high level.”

The Coyotes’ capture of a co-Southern League championship with Mariposa marks Denair’s third league title in as many seasons, and earned the team its second playoff berth in as many postseasons (thanks to COVID). The Coyotes’ core four seniors have played together since the seventh grade and success has followed them throughout the years.

“It’s a special group,” Henderson said. “They’re just fun to be around…It’s really unique, and that’s why we probably have the one seed and that’s probably why we’ve won three league titles in a row.”

Denair is looking to make it to the section title game at the Golden 1 Center this weekend, but they’ll have to get through the Grizzlies first. Denair will take on Mariposa at home Wednesday night for the section semifinal game, with tip off at 7 p.m.