Coal Ridge’s Herrera taking Titans to new heights
Four years ago, the Coal Ridge Titans’ boys basketball team was stuck in a rut under current head coach Paul Harvey. Sitting at 2-5 on the season and needing a spark, the Titans handed the car keys over to then-freshman point guard Brandon Herrera in a game against Gunnison. Since that game, the Titans’ program has done a complete 180, becoming one of the top programs on the Western Slope with Herrera driving the car with ease.
Prior to Herrera taking over the starting job seven games into his freshman season, the Titan program was just 97-116 (.455 winning percentage). Since earning the job outright early in the 2014-15 season, the Titans are an impressive 51-20 under Herrera’s guidance from the point guard position, making him the second Titan in program history to amass 50 career wins. The first to do it was close friend and former teammate Hunter Gerber (56 career wins), but Herrera’s achievement is unique, considering that all 51 wins so far came with him in the starting lineup, whereas Gerber has 44 of his 56 wins coming as a starter himself.
Herrera’s 50th win came on the road last Saturday at Cedaredge, in which the Titans rolled to a 66-56 win and the senior point guard scored a game-high 24 points.
“I don’t really think of anything [when I hear that number],” Herrera said prior to a Coal Ridge practice in New Castle. “I look at it as just a checkpoint in my career. It’s not one of those big things that I’m going to go and celebrate the accomplishment. It’s something that just happens in sports, especially when you have great teammates like I have.”
The quiet, humble senior might not see it as a big deal because he’s a “team first” type of player and will always deflect the praise, but there’s no denying that the shifty, speedy point guard has played a huge roll in the Titans putting up a .718 winning percentage since he entered the starting lineup. That run with him as a starter has included back-to-back 3A Western Slope League regular season titles, one 3A district tournament championship and two state playoff berths for the Peach Valley power. This year, the Titans have a great shot at a third straight league championship and should be able to host the regional tournament once again in the first round of the 3A state playoffs with another strong season.
No doubt, Herrera has certainly had plenty of help in putting up that winning percentage and collecting that hardware, but the one constant in the lineup for the Titans the last four years has been Herrera. That’s not to take anything away from the accolades Gerber — arguably the best player in Coal Ridge basketball history — put up, or former players in Greyson Keener, Jake Solinger and guys like Kevin DiMarco and Payton White now. But Herrera came in as a wide-eyed freshman and has since developed into a steady senior presence for the Titans, helping to establish a winning culture with high expectations.
“He’s done a great job of developing into a confident leader, and he just really understands the game well,” Harvey said. “It helps that he has phenomenal teammates, but he’s kind of been there as the steadying force for all the different types of personalities we’ve had and he’s made it all go.”
The best label one can place on Herrera is that he’s a winner as a leader. He’s not selfish and consistently makes the right plays yet also knows how and when to take over a game offensively when the Titans need him to. That’s been a big part of Herrera’s game dating back to youth basketball, where the point guard — playing with a number of the same players now on varsity — consistently won with whichever team he was on. That’s certainly translated to the varsity level, where the Titans have won eight, 16 and 18 games before winning nine games so far this season, giving Herrera a chance to not only pass Gerber for career wins on the varsity level, but set a school record for career wins as a starter. While others in the valley have certainly won 50 or more games on the court in their varsity basketball careers, Herrera’s is interesting to note, considering the backstory with the situation he stepped into and the eventual outcome that has developed with the Titan program.
“Yes, I’m sure there have been guys and girls who have done this numerous times here in the area, but he’s been the steady force for us and really played a big part in turning this thing around,” Harvey said. “The first point guard I had here in Coal Ridge — Andy Smedra — was pretty good, as was Darik Brown, but Brandon is something special. He’s a great passer and a very good defender, and he just knows when to take over games, not allowing us to lose. He makes all the right plays and sets his teammates up for success.”
With the 50-win checkpoint well behind him, Herrera is focused on finishing off his final season at Coal Ridge in a similar fashion that he has the past two seasons — leading the Titans to a 3A Western Slope title, playing in the district tournament championship game in Grand Junction and hopefully making a deep run in the 3A state playoffs. However, a few key individual milestones could be on the horizon for the electrifying point guard, including 1,000 career points, the all-time assists and steals marks in school history, as well as the 3-point shooting percentage career mark and 3-point field goals made.
That won’t distract the senior point guard, though, as he’s worried about leaving a positive impact on the program and making sure the kids behind him play the game the right way.
“I hope that I leave an impact with teamwork,” Herrera said. “I’m trying to leave that mark so that everyone knows it’s much easier to work towards a win if everyone plays together for each other.”
Spoken like a true point guard.