News Ticker

Longhorns cruise through league play

Billy Braker, Sports Editor

Photo by Leanne Johnson

Everything is brand new for the Longhorn basketball team this year: there is a new coaching staff, new league format, new uniforms, and new attitude in the locker room. After seven years of coaching at Leigh, Head Coach Patrick Judge stepped down last March. Leigh’s Junior Varsity Head Coach Todd Baldwin gladly accepted the job as Head Varsity Coach. Judge took his entire coaching staff with him to Saratoga High, giving Baldwin complete control of the program. Baldwin’s coaching staff this year consists of Varsity Assistant Coaches Ryan Eshoff, Brian Realmonte, and Leigh alumnus Drew Johnston, along with the Strength Coach Matt Schmidt. Despite Judge leading Leigh to two consecutive CCS semifinals, their league record over the last two seasons was a collective 6-22.
“Coach Todd likes to press the entire game and play fast, while Coach Judge liked to slow them down and play zone,” said star Ethan Thompson, junior. “This year the team is much more aggressive. The team is much more close and everyone is having a lot more fun because we are games.”
With Baldwin taking over a team consisting of only two seniors, he had no problem igniting a fire under his team because they are 7-0 in league after playing every league opponent once. The season started off smoothly with three wins right out of the gate over Milpitas, Aptos, and Fremont.
The team lost stride in the beginning of December in the Los Gatos Holiday Tournament. They suffered their first loss to Santa Teresa in their tournament opener, bounced back to crush Mount Pleasant two days later, and then were knocked out of the tournament when they faced their old coach Patrick Judge and his Saratoga Falcons. After 11 days of rest and hard practice, the Longhorns traveled to face WCAL powerhouse Valley Christian, arguably their hardest opponent. Senior Kyle Johnson’s layup with six seconds remaining in the game lifted them over the Warriors to record a 70-68 win.
The Longhorns struggled towards the end of 2016. The Longhorns last competition before the start of league play was the Joe Schram Tournament at St. Francis. Their first game pitted them against Mountain View, resulting in a 74-57 loss. They bounced back with a 57-52 win over Central Valley, before getting blown out by a team from Southern California, Villa Park.
The Longhorns have not looked back since that Villa Park loss. They are undefeated in 2017 and in league play. Their league opener brought Del Mar to the Leigh gym, and the team hosted Lincoln two days later. Juniors Ryan Shenefiel and Silas Viskovich shared scoring honors in Leigh’s first two wins. Shenefiel tossed in 19 points in the league-opening win over the Dons, and Viskovich scored 14 points on 4 of 5 from behind the arc in their win over the Lions. Junior Jaxon Richards chipped in with 12 points, including a ferocious one hand jam in the second half.
They cruised into San Jose High with confidence and rolled past them 82-27. The Longhorn defense kept the San Jose offense in single digits in all four quarters. The Longhorns then whipped out their all-black alternate uniforms Friday night when they travelled to Willow Glen. With a 39-38 lead heading into halftime, the Longhorns put the pedal to the metal in the second half and went on to win 74-63.
Senior Collin Hill caught fire the following week when he dropped a team-high 23 points en route to an easy 86-60 win over Prospect stretching their win streak to five and remain undefeated in league. On Friday night, the Longhorns travelled to Prospect High and put their undefeated league record on the line. After a 22-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, they slowly watched as their lead dwindled. Their second half perseverance allowed them to squeeze past the Panthers 71-68 to become 6-0 in league.
The Longhorns ended January unbeaten. The Leigh Stampede section packed the gym to host cross-town rival, the Branham Bruins.
“I love having the Stampede out there. Tell them to come out more because it helps,” said sophomore Dylan Johnston. “Definitely exciting having a crowd, really gets you pumped up. It is especially different from playing on Junior Varsity last year,” Richards continued.
Branham’s star point guard, Jarrett Powers, kept the game in-reach through the first three quarters, but Leigh took the game over in the fourth quarter. They went on to win by 20 points and stretch their win streak to seven.
“First round of league we played really well, but now we are in first so we have a target on our back now,” said Thompson.
Whatever Coach Baldwin is doing different from Coach Judge, it is working. Baldwin and his coaching staff have already surpassed Judge’s last two season’s win totals and the team is only halfway through league play. The Longhorns are young; only two of their 13 players are seniors, meaning this is just the beginning of the Baldwin Dynasty. They have caught fire so far in 2017, but we hope their season lasts long into the March playoffs.
“It would obviously be a huge confidence booster winning league, but we wanna have a run in CCS and take it further than last year and hang up a banner,” said phenomenon Jaxon Richards, junior.