Denair High boys basketball started their quest for a third straight league title Tuesday night against last year’s runner up Mariposa County. The Coyotes had too many missed opportunities and fell to the Grizzlies 55-52 in a matchup that came down to the last shot.
The Coyotes played stellar defense in the first half, but weren't able to capitalize on offense. Both teams were trading turnovers and when one made a basket, the other came back with one of their own. Down late in the second quarter, guard Jack Henderson made some shots down the stretch to give Denair the 25-24 lead going into halftime.
“We did not shoot the ball well,” said head coach RJ Henderson. “When you go five for 20 from threes and you go six for 18 from the free throw line, you're not going to beat a potential top five seed in the Division. From the line all year we've been around 52 percent. It's one of my lowest in the last five or six years, we’ve got to become better shooters.”
Coming out of the half, the Coyotes couldn’t fix their shooting woes while the Grizzlies found their groove and scored 15 points in the third quarter.
Denair had multiple second and third chance opportunities off of offensive rebounds, but were unable to capitalize and entered the final quarter trailing 35-39.
“We missed a lot of stuff in the room,” said Henderson. “We had a lot of great looks and we had a lot of offensive rebounds in the second half; three, four or five possessions at a time and just nothing would fall.”Mariposa County looked like they were about to pull away and secure the game when they were up by 11 points with about five minutes left, but the Coyotes offense finally got going a bit. Denair was able to make it a one possession game with about two minutes left, but committed a few turnovers to give the Grizzlies back control.
Down six with little over a minute left, a Grizzly player committed a technical foul against Henderson. He wasn’t able to make them pay though, and only knocked down one out of four free throws. After forcing a couple turnovers of their own, Denair pulled within three and had the final shot. However, like the rest of the night, they couldn’t knock down the three pointer to tie the game and lost 52-55.
Jack Henderson was the leading scorer for the team with 21 points. Mario Plasencia also contributed with 13 points. With this being the first league game, the Coyotes know they have a target on their backs by being champions and want to embrace the challenge.
“We're gonna get the best shot, we've won the league the last two years in a row,” said Henderson. “It's fun to be the hunter for a lot of years, but now when you're the hunted, it's different. We have to figure out a way out how to play well here because the goal is to get a home playoff game. This is a very good win for them and you tip your cap to them. They made enough plays and we're going to see them again in three weeks.”
Denair plays their next game on the road against Ripon Christian on Saturday. Their next league game is against Delhi on Tuesday.