Varsity basketball clinches District championship with win over Leander

No one comes into Westlake and wins. It’s been as simple as that this season, and the closest any team came to breaking the fortress was Vandegrift, and they lost by 11.

The Chaps (24-6, 10-1 in District) continued that trend Feb. 10 with a 56-34 win over Leander that also avenged an earlier away loss to the Lions.

“It’s our gym,” Westlake head coach Robert Lucero said. “We practice in it every day, we know what the backdrops like and we get to do everything in here consistently, so it’s really something that we need to take pride in.”

But Leander came into the game with hope. They held the explosive Chaps’ offense to just 57 points when the two met in Leander and won on the back of a 30-point outing by senior Chase Cotton.

“We dropped one when we went up there,” senior Alex Neahusan said. “We felt like we didn’t play well, and gave them a lot of easy shots. Letting them know that we’re the better team and everyone else in District and ourselves, feels good.”

Westlake needed only 56 points this time around to beat a Lions’ offense that struggled all game. They were especially poor from the free-throw line, 8-21, which allowed Westlake to pull away to a 14-point lead at the end of the first half.

“They were the aggressor,” Leander head coach Clint Bradley said. “They did a good job pressuring us [on defense], and they hurt us on the offensive boards. We didn’t respond to their level of play.”

The Lions have now lost five straight games and find themselves needing a win over Lehman Feb. 14 in order to grab the final playoff spot. This comes after a Cinderella run saw them to the top of the District just a couple of weeks ago.

“We need to continue to stay positive and make the guys understand that we can improve, and that we still have an opportunity to make the playoffs,” Bradley said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Westlake’s big men have made a difference all season long, and Friday was no different. The trio of sophomore Will Baker, junior Brock Cunningham and senior Alex Neahusan controlled the paint, grabbing 32 rebounds combined. The three were also the focal point of the offense, scoring 35 points combined.

“We have a good three-man rotation right now,” Lucero said. “In close games, we have an advantage, and we also have big guards in [juniors] Matthew [Mayer] and Keonte [Kennedy]. It’s just a matter of trying to find the right matchups from game to game.”

Cunningham once again earned himself a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds which he put down to “playing hard” and “being lucky enough to be in the right positions.” His hard work has been the theme for the Chaps throughout the season and could be the x-factor in the playoffs.

His health, a concern after missing most of the season last year, has been another vital part of the Chaps’ success.

“It was really important with confidence and being able to shoot the ball a little bit better this year,” he said.

Although not the final game on the District schedule for the Chaps, the win clinched their second District title in as many years. This is the first time since 2004 the team has won District in  back-to-back years.

“We had a very talented roster — we had a lot of people return from last year,” Alex said. “We had a great run last year, and we knew we had to build off of that. We’re hoping to carry the momentum into playoffs.”

In order to keep it, they’ll need a win over Vista Ridge in what Lucero described as a “playoff game” for the Rangers because of the seeding implications. Westlake’s first opponent is likely to be a San Antonio team, but with playoff races still going strong, the Chaps may not find out who they’re playing until after the Vista Ridge game.

“We have one more District game, so we got to win up there, and then we have a full week to get ready for the first round,” Alex said. “Like coach [Lucero] always says, the way we prepare in these last couple weeks leading up to playoffs will be the momentum we have going into the playoffs and determine how we do.”