Riding the wave of momentum it built during last year’s playoffs and buoyed by the return of 10 seniors, the Denham Springs boys soccer team entered the 2015-16 season with expectations higher than ever.
Whether the Yellow Jackets can meet those expectations will be decided in the coming weeks.
After a regular season marked by what co-coach Erick England described as inconsistency, Denham Springs turns its focus to the games that matter most when the Yellow Jackets host No. 10 seed Grace King on Thursday night in the second round of the Division I playoffs.
Denham Springs, seeded seventh in Division I for the second straight year, received a first-round bye.
“We’re counting on those 10 seniors to get everybody focused,” England said. “Going forward, we’ve reminded them that every game you play could be your last.”
A win Thursday would send Denham (17-7-5), whose program is in only its ninth season, to the quarterfinals for the second straight year. No other Livingston Parish team has advanced that deep in the soccer playoffs.
But for the Yellow Jackets to continue their run, they will need to play with the kind of focus England said eluded the team at various points this season.
The low point for the Yellow Jackets came in back-to-back losses against Baton Rouge High and Zachary, defeats that cost them a shot at the District 3 championship. Zachary missed the playoffs. Baton Rouge High was the last team in.
On the flip side, Denham owns victories over highly seeded Division I playoff teams like Caddo Magnet and Lafayette and played Acadiana to a tie.
“We’ve played with some of the top teams in the state,” England said. “But you’ve got to be at your best every game.”
Veteran strikers Cade Murry and Cam Hilliard lead the Yellow Jackets into the stretch run having combined for 47 goals this season. Middle back Craig Hodges and goalkeeper Tyler Medina, who has 79 saves in 29 games, anchor the defense.
History for Live Oak girls
First-time playoff wins are becoming a theme in Live Oak athletics.
Three months after the football team won its first playoff game, the Live Oak girls secured their first playoff win in soccer with a 3-0 overtime win over South Terrebonne last week.
Senior Alexis Hay had eight saves for the 15th-seeded Eagles as they advanced in the Division II playoffs.
Live Oak and South Terrebonne went to overtime after neither team managed a goal through regulation. Freshman Emily Patrick got Live Oak on the board in the extra period, then Alicia Carlos added two more goals for the final margin.
The Eagles (15-6-1) were scheduled to face No. 2 seed Ben Franklin on Wednesday in the second round.
On the hardwood
The Denham Springs girls basketball team remained perfect in District 4-5A play with victories over Scotlandville and Live Oak last week, bringing the Yellow Jackets within two wins of finishing district play with a perfect 10-0 mark.
Denham (25-2, 8-0) had a big test scheduled for Tuesday night when the team would travel to face Zachary.
Zachary’s only district loss through eight district games came at Denham on Jan. 22 when the Yellow Jackets rallied from a double-digit first-half deficit.
The Walker girls (19-11, 4-4) were scheduled to visit Live Oak on Tuesday before finishing the regular season at home against Scotlandville in a game that would likely decide third place in the league standings.
In boys basketball, Denham Springs and Walker had separated themselves in what was once expected to be a crowded race behind first-place Scotlandville in the 4-5A standings.
Denham (14-12) followed a 94-55 loss at Scotlandville with a 60-36 victory over Live Oak to reach 5-1 in league play. Walker (21-6) rebounded from back-to-back league losses to knock off Zachary and Central, giving the Wildcats a 4-2 district mark.
Going into the week, Scotlandville, Denham and Walker were the only teams in the district with winning records in league play.