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Denair earns section title, advances in state tournament
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The Denair High boys basketball team won its first section title since 2002 on Saturday (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

In the span of just four days, the Denair High boys basketball team earned its first Sac-Joaquin Section title since 2002 and dominated in the opening round of the state tournament — all in a week’s work for the Coyotes. 

Denair defeated Bradshaw Christian 62-45 on Saturday from the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, clinching the SJS Division V title and claiming the title of section champs for just the fourth time in school history. It was a familiar opponent for the Coyotes, who have faced Bradshaw four times over the last four years despite being an hour and a half apart. 

“...They came with a lot of momentum and our guys answered the bell,” Denair head coach RJ Henderson said. “We knew it was going to be a fight.”

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Cooper Feldman surges past a defender during the Division V section title game (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Denair jumped out to an early 11-7 lead in the first period, something they hadn’t done in their prior two playoff games. By halftime, they had extended their lead to nine points and led Bradshaw 25-16. Despite being outscored by Bradshaw in the third period, the Coyotes exploded in the fourth for 22 points compared to their opponent’s 12, pulling out the victory.

“It was a team effort, a group effort…The sacrifice and the hours behind the scenes, it culminates into this moment,” RJ Henderson said. 

Senior Mario Plasencia was Denair’s top shooter in the section title game, scoring 20 points, and collecting the most rebounds on the afternoon with seven. Fellow senior Cooper Feldman had 16 points, and junior Isaiahs Plasencia had 10 points. 

The team’s starting seniors, who RJ Henderson refers to as the “core four,” include Mario Plasencia, Feldman, Jack Henderson and Connor Leonard — all of whom have played together since junior high school.

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Connor Leonard tosses a pass over a swarm of Bradshaw Christian defenders (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

“We knew from the start we had a special group,” Mario Plasencia said. “We’ve been together since middle school, so it’s been the same group up until now. I still can’t believe it. It got me crying on the bench and everything. We’re proud of this win and we earned it.”

The Coyotes advanced to the CIF State Boys Basketball Championship as the No. 5 seed in the D-V bracket, and welcomed Orland High to the Denair gym on Tuesday night for the opening round. It was yet another commanding victory for the team, defeating No. 12 Orland 64-38.

The tone was set immediately with the opening play of the game, which saw Jack Henderson sink a three — his first of five on the night. 

“I knew from warm-ups my shot was going pretty solid,” Jack Henderson said. “It’s just good to get a victory.”

Orland never saw a lead during the game and trailed by 30 points at one point in the fourth period. Jack Henderson had 19 points on the night, Feldman tallied 17 and Leonard scored 11 of his own — an all-around performance from the Coyotes to advance in the state tournament.

Denair will play the winner of Mariposa and Priory at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

“We’re prepared for either team,” Jack Henderson said. “It’s win or go home, so we’re trying to play one game at a time.”