After coaching for a while, Denham Springs High boys’ coach Kevin Caballero doesn’t encounter a lot that surprises him.
He did last week, although he knew it was coming.
The revamped District 4-5A basketball schedule – with the addition of Belaire this season and next – creates a bye in the middle of the league schedule.
That means the Yellow Jackets had a quiet Friday night last week as the calendar rolled to February, a rare break in the grind of a basketball season when teams are usually in a two-games-a-week rhythm by now.
DSHS gets back to work at 7 p.m. Tuesday with a road trip to Zachary and Caballero is curious to see how his District 4-5A co-leading club handles the break.
“It is odd at this time of the season to stop and catch your breath like we got to do,” Caballero said. “We had four games in six days right before that and now we will have had one in seven days. We came back Sunday and had a good workout, but we did need the little break as far as getting our legs back underneath us. This is uncharted waters for me a little. It makes me wonder how we’re going to respond, but I have a lot of confidence in my guys.”
Why wouldn’t he by now?
As Denham (21-6, 2-0 district) hits the stretch run, the Jackets have soared past the expectations placed on them prior to this season after a dismal 2016-17 campaign. DSHS was 10-23 last season and missed the playoffs, but a veteran core of five seniors spent the offseason rededicating themselves and bought into Caballero’s system.
Now, with a team void of superstars but strong because of their strong teamwork, the Jackets have positioned itself nicely for at least one home playoff game. Denham sits at No. 13 in the most recent unofficial Class 5A power ratings.
Before the Jackets can start wandering too far down the road toward the postseason, though, there is work to do starting Tuesday against the Broncos (10-16, 0-2).
Zachary is an athletic but young crew that has vacillated between close-call losses and blowouts and last week was a perfect microcosm.
The Broncos lost to Live Oak 56-55 on Halen Cox’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds and then were no match against Walker in a 68-38 loss last Friday. The Broncos have lost 7 games by six points or fewer this season and six by 14 points or more.
Caballero doesn’t have to look far to understand what Zachary is enduing. His longtime right-hand man, assistant coach Tony Sterling, pointed out that the Broncos are doing a lot of things well but lack the sometimes elusive ability to reach the finish line.
“Tony told me they remind him of us last year and when I thought about it, he’s exactly right,” They’re just not quite getting games finished.
“A lot of their struggles have come down to scoring the basketball. They’ve had some trouble with that and no matter how talented you are, it’s hard to win that way. But they have athleticism and they play hard from start to finish, so we have to be ready to play as hard as they do.”
Which goes back to Caballero’s faith in his team.
By playing so well to reach this point, the Jackets have put themselves in a position where every game in February emerges as a little bigger than the last. This one is in a tricky spot – wedged between emotional rivalry games against Live Oak (a 51-46 DSHS win on Jan. 30) and at home vs. Walker.
Mix in the unfamiliar break and there might be cause for trepidation. But Caballero is at ease with how he expects his team to come out Tuesday.
“We’ve got five seniors out there and they’ve led this team to where we are right now,” Caballero said. “I trust them to take care of things one game at a time. By now they know that if want to make down the road special, you’d better take care of what’s on the line next.”
In other 4-5A action on Tuesday:
- The Live Oak boys take on a gargantuan test when Scotlandville (23-5, 3-0) invades C.B. Wheat Gymnasium for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Eagles (16-11, 2-1) claimed their second league win at Central on Friday with a barrage of 3-pointers (12-for-21) setting the tone. They may need that and much more to have a chance at toppling the Hornets.
- Walker (24-4, 1-1) nabbed its first 4-5A win last Friday by routing Zachary and now hits the road for a 6 p.m. contest at Belaire (5-15, 1-2).
- The girls slate is also highlighted by a DSHS-Zachary meeting, this one at Hornsby Gym at 6:30 p.m. The Lady Jackets (19-9, 3-1) have reeled off three league wins in a row since losing to Scotlandville but figure to have their hands full against the Lady Broncos (20-8, 3-0), who dusted Walker 66-55 last Friday.
- Live Oak (15-12, 1-3) looks for a second win in a row when it travels to surprising contender Scotlandville (18-10, 3-1) for a 5:30 p.m. game.
- The Lady Cats (26-6, 3-1) try to regain some footing when they entertain struggling Belaire (4-12, 0-3) at 5:30 p.m.
- Zachary also visits Scotlandville in a rare Wednesday district game, with a 6:30 p.m. tip.
- In the soccer playoffs, the only district team in action Tuesday is the Central girls, who head down I-12 to take on Northshore in a Division II regional match at 6 p.m.
- DSHS and Live Oak are back in action in the boys’ tournament on Thursday: The Yellow Jackets play at Alexandria High at 5 p.m. in Division 1 and the Eagles venture to Opelousas to face Beau Chene in Division 2.
Live Oak at Scotlandville, 5:30 p.m.
Belaire at Walker, 5:30 p.m. p.m.
Zachary at DSHS, 6:30 p.m.
Walker at Belaire, 6 p.m.
DSHS at Zachary, 7 p.m.
Scotlandville at Live Oak, 7 p.m.
Division 2 Regional round
Central at Lakeshore, 6 p.m.
Zachary at Scotlandville, 6:30 p.m.
Division 1 Regional round
DSHS at Alexandria, 5 p.m.
Division 2 Regional round
Live Oak vs. Beau Chene, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 9
DSHS at Walker, 5:30 p.m.
Belaire at Live Oak, 6 p.m.
Zachary at Central, 7 p.m.
Live Oak at Belaire, 6 p.m.
Walker at DSHS, 7 p.m.
Central at Zachary, 7 p.m.