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Denair basketball outlasts Mariposa, will play for section title
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The Denair Coyotes celebrate taking down their Southern League co-champions during Wednesday’s Division V semifinals, defeating Mariposa 60-56 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

For the first time since 2002, the Denair High School boys basketball team will play in a Sac-Joaquin Section title game on Saturday. 

The Coyotes took down their Southern League co-champions during Wednesday’s Division V semifinals, defeating Mariposa 60-56 in a hard-fought victory which advanced them to this weekend’s finals at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. 

“It was everything I thought it would be, plus a little bit more,” Denair head coach RJ Henderson said following Wednesday’s close game. “We’re just two evenly matched teams.”

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Connor Leonard scores for Denair Wednesday evening during the playoff game against Mariposa. The Coyotes won 60-56 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Denair and Mariposa shared the Southern League crown this season after they both finished 11-1, and the longtime rivals split their league series against each other. The Grizzlies came to Denair’s gym looking to win the rubber match on Wednesday and edged the Coyotes 22-17 after the first period. Both teams scored nine points apiece in the second quarter, and Mariposa entered halftime up 31-26. 

After the half, however, Denair returned to the court with a vengeance and scored 12 unanswered points thanks in part to 3-pointers from seniors Connor Leonard and Jack Henderson. Mariposa answered back to come within two points, 43-41, making for a nail-biting fourth period.

“They went on that 12-0 run to start the second half and that gave us a lot of momentum moving forward. [Mariposa] is so good and so well-coached that they made a run at us several times, and we had to answer it,” RJ Henderson said. 

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Izaiahs Plasencia brings the ball down the court Wednesday during the playoff game against Mariposa (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The two teams fought back and forth in the fourth, with each tying the game and capturing the lead only to see the other come back and do the same. With just one minute left in the game and the Coyotes down 56-54, Denair junior Isaiahs Plasencia hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to go up 57-56. 

“This feels amazing. Being able to contribute to our team win is the best feeling ever,” Isaiahs Plasencia said. “The corner is just my spot, so I threw it up and put it in.”

Free throws from Henderson and senior Mario Plasencia following the 3-pointer secured the win. 

“It was a two-minute game, and we came out ahead in the last two minutes,” RJ Henderson said. “I’m so proud of this team.”

With the win, the Coyotes will play Bradshaw Christian at 12 noon Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in the Division-V section title game. It’s Denair’s first trip back to the title game since they won in 2002, and RJ Henderson’s first as head coach. Denair and Bradshaw last played in December, when the Coyotes won 57-56.