The Denair High boys basketball team’s season came to an end on Thursday night after the Coyotes lost in the second round of the CIF NorCal Boys Basketball Championship — the furthest the program has gone in playoffs since 1990.
Denair entered the Division V bracket as the No. 5 seed, taking down No. 12 Orland on Tuesday to advance. The Coyotes traveled two hours to Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley hoping to win and advance to the semifinals, but fell short in a 70-53 loss.
Head coach RJ Henderson said the Priory Panthers were one of the biggest teams Denair has faced so far this season with dynamic guards who were fast and accurate shooters. The Coyotes, known for their 3-point shots, were just 4-for-24 from the 3-point line.
“Even if we had our normal number of threes, I don’t know if that’s enough to win that night,” RJ Henderson said. “The other team played very well and did some things that were very difficult to defend.”
It was the last game for the team’s “core four” seniors, Connor Leonard, Cooper Feldman, Mario Plasencia and Jack Henderson, who have been playing together since middle school. Paired with Mario’s brother, junior Isaiahs Plasencia, Denair’s starting five was talented enough to win a Southern League co-championship this season. It marked the third straight season the Coyotes earned the title of league champs, which is the first time that’s ever been done in school history.
The season coming to an end this week was emotional for the team and their coach, who is stepping back from the program following the season.
“There was a point late in the game on Thursday when I told the seniors, ‘It’s getting to that point.’ I told them, ‘You want to make sure you shoot every bullet left in the gun,’” RJ Henderson said. “...This group has sacrificed so much, and I’ve watched them turn into men. I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”
RJ Henderson and the Coyotes made it all the way to the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento last weekend, defeating Bradshaw Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-V championship to earn Denair’s first section title since 2002 and just the fourth in the program’s history.
As his coaching tenure in Denair comes to an end after 10 years, RJ Henderson hopes whoever steps up to lead the program next continues to host camps for the youth, because that’s how the Coyotes ended up with a record-setting squad at the high school level.
“It took us a few years to figure it out, but I think we’ve created a blueprint,” he said.