DENHAM SPRINGS - Senior night has always been a celebration of the players who have given as many as four years to a team, but coaches also know that it can be a trap of sorts once the ball is tipped off.
The Denham Springs Yellow Jackets overcame a sluggish first half on their senior night at Grady Hornsby Gymnasium on Tuesday before racing past Central in the second half for a 63-45 win in District 4-5A action.
Seniors Micah Banks and Kaleb Drummer led the way for Denham Springs with 19 and 17 points, respectively. The Jackets outscored Central 40-24 in the second half after leading by only two at halftime.
The Jackets conclude the regular season at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Scotlandville, the reigning Division I state champion.
“There are a lot of distractions,” DSHS coach Kevin Caballero said about senior night. “The players are distracted and even the coaching staff is distracted with making sure it all goes well, but we still have got a game to play. Central has been playing well. I thought in the first half they took it to us a little more and I thought we were a little passive.”
Denham Springs (18-15, 3-2 in district) converted only 8-of-22 shots (36.4 percent) in the first half and led 23-21 at halftime. The Jackets held an early six-point lead, but the Wildcats (13-18, 1-4) went on an 8-2 run to even the score at 13 after the first period.
Denham Springs endured a four-minute scoreless drought in the middle of the second quarter and were just 4-of-12 (33 percent) shooting for the period. Even though they had gained a two-point lead by halftime, Caballero knew the fire wasn’t there from the Jackets.
“I challenged them to show a little emotion,” Caballero said of his halftime comments to his team. “It’s your senior night and you don’t want to walk out of here losing on senior night. I thought they answered. I thought we played a little more aggressive and we made some shots, and that always helps”
With just under five minutes to go in the third period and DSHS possessing a three-point lead, Drummer and reserve CJ Johnson sparked an 11-4 spurt that led to a nine-point lead by the end of the period.
Johnson scored all six of his points during the run on a pair of layups and a 17-footer from the baseline, while Drummer hit a 3-pointer and converted two free throws.
After Central cut the lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter, Banks hit a pair of long 3-pointers to stretch the lead to 13 points and the Wildcats never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
“Micah is a good player,” Caballero said. “Sometimes he needs to assert himself a little more and he made some big shots for us there in the second half”
The Jackets were 14-or-26 (53.8 percent) from the field in the second half and made four of their eight 3-point tries.
Malik Hillard was Central’s lone double-figure scorer with 12 points. The Wildcats made 15-of-35 field goals (43 percent) and were only 2-of-11 (18.1 percent) from behind the 3-point range.
“We had been shooting the ball pretty well coming into tonight, but we didn’t make as many shots as we had been making,” Central coach Brian Hargroder said. “When you can’t make shots and you can’t get stops, it makes for a long night.”
The group of five seniors that were in the starting lineup for Denham Springs will always hold a special place in their coach’s heart. Caballero is in his fourth season as the team’s coach, making this year’s seniors the first full class he coached for four years.
“They got here when I got here,” he said. “I told a couple of them at the beginning (the pregame ceremony) that it seems like it was a couple of weeks ago. I preached to them about how fast it goes, and I think they are realizing it.”