BATON ROUGE – To gauge the growth of Denham Springs’ rising sophomore JaBarry Fortenberry this summer, all you have to do is point to two keys plays – one to close the third quarter, another midway through the third quarter - in Monday’s summer league game with rival Live Oak.
Fortenberry, who lettered a year ago as a freshman, put back a missed shot at the end of the third quarter and then turned on the jets, driving for a field goal to help the Yellow Jackets keep the Eagles at bay in a 40-36 victory in a game played at Woodlawn High.
“I just feel like I’ve got to put in more effort,” Fortenberry said. “You have to take your time and be patient with the ball.”
With Live Oak trying to rally from as much as a 13-point deficit, Fortenberry scored 11 points to complement the team-high total of 14 points from guard C.J. Johnson.
Denham Springs never trailed in the game which was twice tied, but the Yellow Jackets shot 40 percent (10 of 25) in the first half and limited Live Oak to 33 percent (5 of 15) shooting and six turnovers during that stretch.
The Eagles were playing in their second straight game of the day, having filled a void in the schedule and went down to the wire against host Woodlawn, which held on for a 36-34 victory after the Panthers forced over a turnover on the final play of the game.
“I thought we played well defensively,” said Denham Springs coach Kevin Caballero, whose team went 3-2 in Episcopal’s team camp. “Hat’s off to Live Oak which had to play two games back to back, plus being a little short-handed. I was proud of the effort of our guys and they’ve gotten a little better each week.”
With four of his top players unavailable because of injuries or vacation, Live Oak coach John Capps jumped at the chance to fill a void in the schedule created by Mt. Hermon and face Woodlawn, coupled with a scheduled game with Denham Springs less than five minutes later.
“It’s a chance for our JV guys and some younger guys to get some extra playing time,” Capps said. “I thought it was good for us overall. Would I have liked for the results to have been different? Sure, but the summer is more about how you grow and how much better you got. I thought we took some positive steps. I’m OK with it.”
Fortenberry scored on consecutive baskets midway through the second quarter – the first on an inside spin move, the other a drive following a turnover – to expand Denham Springs’ lead to 18-11.
Johnson converted a three-point play with 1:33 showing and Michael Rodriguez answered a 3-pointer from Live Oak’s Josh Watson and hit a 30-footer at the buzzer for a 29-16 halftime advantage.
Behind leading scorer Lawrence Pierre, who led Live Oak with 13 points, helped the Eagles close within 31-24 after a 3-pointer with 3:29 showing in the third quarter.
They got as close as 33-29 with 1:15 remaining a 3-pointer from Baylor Wells and Pierre’s dish to Tae Henyard – a sophomore forward getting his first varsity action of the summer.
“As far as development, I saw a lot of what our kids can do and what we need to work on,” Capps said. “We’ve got plenty of things to work out. It’s June and I thought we got better as a group.”
Fortenberry’s put back at the end of the third quarter stopped Live Oak’s momentum and his driving layin enabled Denham Springs to regain an eight-point lead (37-29) with 4:20 to play.
“When his motor’s running, he can play,” Caballero said of Fortenberry. “He’s played really well lately and it’s a result of his effort more than anything. He’s put the ball on the ground and if they step back off of him, he’ll pull up and shoot a shot he’s capable of making. He’s rebounded and has some good defensive instincts.”