Denham Springs senior center Desiree Jones remembers all of the 7 a.m. workouts.
The objective is never clearly defined during the hot summer month in June, but for coach Blake Zito it was the molding process of his first team at Denham Springs after he succeeded outgoing coach Shelly LaPrarie.
More than eight months and 33 games later, the Yellow Jackets have nearly climbed all the way to the top of the mountain in Class 5A.
All that remains is the last step which sixth-seeded Denham Springs (28-5) looks to take at 8 p.m. Saturday against ninth-seeded Captain Shreve (26-4) in the Class 5A state championship game at Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria.
The Lady Jackets are in pursuit of the school’s second state title which last occurred in 1996 in Alexandria.
“We worked hard for it since June,” Jones said.
Said Zito: “It’s one game, 32 minutes. If we play as well as we’re capable of, I like our chances.”
It seems like an improbable championship clash with a No. 6 versus a No. 9 seed, but it’s a tribute to the depth of the teams in Class 5A, Zito said.
“You don’t get to the 5A state championship game without being a good team, that’s what they are,” he said of Captain Shreve which is appearing in its first state championship game. “What separates 5A from other classes is the athletes. Everybody has good athletes and we have to show up and play good basketball.”
Captain Shreve’s riding a 24-game win streak, dating to a 61-56 loss to Sam Houston on Dec. 1. The Lady Gators avenged that setback, upsetting the top-seeded Lady Broncos (61-48) in the quarterfinals and subsequently upset fifth-seeded and defending state champion East Ascension (65-48) in Thursday’s semifinal.
“From what I’ve seen it’s a mixture of Northshore with Ouachita,” Zito said of Captain Shreve, who also has losses two Benton (2) and Ponchatoula – teams that have wins over Denham Springs this season. “They’ve got the size and they’re able to shoot it. They like to drive and kick. They kind of spread you out.”
Jones likes the probability of the game taking on a distinct physical nature between the outstanding post play of both teams.
Captain Shreve outrebounded EA 51-30, 20 of which were in the offensive end, and the Lady Gators had three players score in double figures led by Kennedi Heard, a Prairie View A&M signee, with 18.
“I think we match up really well,” Jones said. “They’re big, but we’re big too. I feel like we should dominate either way. I’m going to enjoy it. It’s post on post, that’s a good matchup.”
Said Captain Shreve coach Keith Greene: “We’ve had 7 or 8 rebound trips this season We crash the boards. When we go, we go hard.”
Zito said Shreve’s guard Addison Martin, who had a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) in the semifinal victory, will also be a focal point for a Denham Springs defense which is allowing 36 points per game during its playoff run.
“I think we understand what the task is when it comes to that,” Zito said of Shreve’s size. “No. 12 (Martin) can do it all and No. 24 (Heard) seems to be their most consistent shooter.”
Zito points to two of his team’s most recent games against inside-oriented opponents such as Division II state champion Lee High and Ouachita in the state quarterfinals as valuable experiences that should serve them well in the state final.
The Lady Jackets battled the Lee High down to the wire in a 59-53 regular-season setback, while going on the road last week against the Lady Lions in a 46-40 state quarterfinal victory.
“They do come with size, but we have size,” Zito said. “Ouachita’s more physical. They could bang and enjoyed it. I’ve got some really tough girls in Desiree, Jala Robinson and Kate Thompson. They won’t back down from anybody. At the end of the day we’ve got to go rebound. I have complete faith in these girls.
“Those games (regular-season losses) have prepared us,” Zito said. “We weren’t at the point yet in the season, but everything has gotten us to this point. We’ve learned our lessons; we’ve grown as a team. I’m extremely proud.”