FLOWERY BRANCH — As Denmark’s boys basketball team walked into Flowery Branch High School for their second straight Region 7-4A championship appearance, it knew the circumstances couldn’t be more different.
Last year, the Danes were a scrappy upstart, an underdog that ultimately took down Marist and Blessed Trinity, teams that gave them fits throughout the season, on the way to an unexpected region title in just their first season of existence.
A year later, Denmark was even more dangerous, and after blasting through region play with a perfect 10-0 record, the Danes were clear favorites for a repeat. Head coach Tyler Whitlock knew that, but made sure to remind his players of how rare their opportunity was.
“We talked the other day,” Whitlock said. “It's easy to get caught up in that. This is the expectation now, but you also have to be careful that you take time to enjoy where you're at. Nothing is guaranteed so you need to stop and enjoy the moment.”
They certainly enjoyed how their night ended: After a relatively slow start, Denmark began to gel late, and after closing out a 69-55 victory over Blessed Trinity, the Danes hoisted the region championship trophy for the second time in their program’s young history.
“It feels good,” Whitlock said. “I think the guys have worked really hard and they deserve to be able to do that back-to-back. I think they came out here playing and just wanting to leave it all on the floor.”
But while Denmark was able to carve out a double-digit lead by the end of the game, it very much looked like a contest that could come down to the wire as the third quarter began. Behind the play of Robert Cowherd and Sutton Smith, the Danes went on a 12-0 run to expand a once-narrow two-point lead to 45-30 with just over two minutes left until the fourth, where Denmark’s hot scoring just continued.
Smith, who scored eight points during the game’s decisive run, finished his night with 17 total, while Cowherd led all Denmark scorers with 33.
“I was most proud of the way they played in the second half,” Whitlock said. “They really got locked in on defense. Blessed Trinity has been known to be very strong in the third quarter and we just did a phenomenal job locking in on them. Of course, (Region Player of the Year Jax Bouknight) still got hot in the fourth quarter, but we had distanced ourselves enough where it wasn't hurting us too bad.”
Denmark’s shooting was mostly off the mark in the first quarter, though, with Cowherd being a massive exception. His 14 first-quarter points and three 3-pointers single-handedly kept the Danes from falling behind entering the second, with the Danes holding an 18-12 lead at the end of the opening period.
“I was hot, so they were just going to feed me the ball,” Cowherd said. “I started cooling off a little bit so my teammates got involved and it took off from there.”
But before that happened, the Titans went on their own hot streak in the second quarter, narrowing the lead with an 8-0 run, leading to a slim 26-24 halftime edge for the Danes.
“I think we tried to do some things that were outside of our comfort zone,” Whitlock said. “We tried to play a little bit too much one-on-one instead of trusting each other to make plays that we know how to make. Once (we) just kind of settled down and said, ‘Hey, we're in great position to do what we want to do,’ then it got rolling a little bit.”
And with a seemingly good chance at a deep playoff run, the Danes hope to keep their streak going in its first-round home playoff matchup with LaGrange later this week.
“We've got a hot chance,” Cowherd said. “It's going to be a show.”