A win Tuesday could put Denham Springs in rarified air for the program.
The Yellow Jackets are in the Division I quarterfinals of the state tournament for just the second time in school history following their 2-1 upset win over Alexandria in overtime last week.
When DSHS (20-6-4) take on Jesuit (18-3-3) at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Yellow Jacket Stadium, it has a chance to reach a stage it has never reached before.
It’s a task much easier said than done, but Denham coach Chris Thorne’s team has let results do most of the talking this season.
The Yellow Jackets have started playing some of their best soccer in the playoffs, have won nine of their last 11 matches and were unbeaten in 11 of those last 13. The two defeats came at the end of the season against Holy Cross, the No. 1 seed in Division 2, and Catholic High, who was bested in the second round by Jesuit in penalty kicks.
With the history of championship soccer associated with Jesuit, it would be normal to expect high stakes to be placed on this game by Denham, and to an extent, there are.
Just not for the Yellow Jackets’ players. To them, Jesuit is just the No. 15 seed travelling to play the No, 10 seed.
“It exists more with the coaches and the parents than it does with the players,” Thorne said. “We view Jesuit as the Jesuit of old, the Jesuit that was winning titles four years ago. But with the kids that have been here for the past three years, Jesuit has kind of been a backburner team in the area. It’s been all about St. Paul’s and it was Catholic in the title match last year, Acadiana the year before that. I really don’t think the kids are as anxious about Jesuit as they were about Catholic.
“I kind of like where their minds are at. OK, it’s Jesuit. They’re the next team.”
DSHS senior Cameron Hamby echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“I’ve never played against Jesuit in the four years that I’ve been in the program,” he said. “But really it is just another team. We’ve never played them and we’ve never seen them play. So really we don’t know what to expect. You just have to play them like they are any other team. We heard they’re physical, so we’re going to have to come out and play more physical than we usually do. We heard they have a great backline and a great defense. I think we’ll end up matching up well.”
Hamby isn’t the only senior on the squad, but he is the only player who participated in the Jackets’ lone foray into the quarterfinals when they lost to Acadiana 2-1 in 2015. He’s the first player in school history to play in two quarterfinal matches and is hoping that it’s not his last.
“I’ve lost three playoff games myself,” Hamby said. “That’s more than anybody else currently on the team. It’s not an enjoyable feeling. It motivates me to not lose again. I’m obviously glad we made it this far, but it’s never been the goal to make it to quarterfinals. You can’t hang your hat on that at the end of the day.”
That drive helped propel Denham to a 2-1 upset over Alexandria last Thursday in extra time. They Yellow Jackets went down early before fighting back into the match, something Thorne doesn’t take lightly.
“The biggest thing that stood out in the game was coming back from behind,” Thorne said. “We were down (1-0) and we were able to pull ourselves out of that and then end with a draw in regulation, but we overtook them in overtime. It spoke highly to our resolve and conditioning. The guys were willing to fight it out and get scrappy.”
The winner Tuesday advances to play the winner of another quarterfinal between Byrd and Acadiana. If Denham and Acadiana prevail, the Yellow Jackets will host a semifinal match. If Denham and Byrd win, the Jackets will head to Shreveport for the next round.