EAST MANATEE -- Braden River returning all six players from last season's boys team would have been enough for the Pirates to be competitive in 2016. BRHS hovered around .500 with room to grow. Reinforcements, though, have elevated Braden River this season.
Head coach Brian Straub knew there was a chance for the Pirates to bolster the top of their lineup and increase their depth. Straub has deep United States tennis ties from his time with IMG Academy and heard about a handful of star freshen who could fill the top of his roster.
"I knew that I was having two kids that were ranked that were coming in," Straub said.
David Ojeda immediately stepped in to play No. 1 singles and Sebastian Bucarion slotted into the No. 3 spot. With all six players returning from the 2014 team, Ojeda and Bucarion have helped elevate BRHS from a middling program to a championship hopeful in Class 3A-District 10.
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The district tournament is now Braden River's next stop. The Pirates completed the regular season Wednesday with a 7-0 win against rival Lakewood Ranch at Braden River High School.
The BRHS girls also scored a 6-1 win against the shorthanded Mustangs to conclude their regular season. Both teams will play in the district tournament March 29 in Clearwater.
With Ojeda and Bucarion joining Race Arande, last year's No. 1, the Pirates (9-2) have a top three with three potentially United State Tennis Association (USTA) ranked players. Arande doesn't play enough competitive tournaments away from high school to qualify for a ranking, but Straub considers him to be at a similar level to Ojeda and Bucarion.
On Wednesday, Ojeda beat Anthony Pistella, 8-4, Arande beat Balwant Singh, 8-1, and Bucarion beat Garret Kelly, 8-5. All matches against Ranch (6-10) were played in pro sets.
"It's been a very, very strong season," Straub said. "I can't believe we wouldn't be first or second in our district this year."
Braden River's girls haven't been quite as competitive this season, but upset the defending state champion Wednesday. Ranch (9-6) has been in a bit of a rebuild this season and was missing four of its five projected singles players against the Pirates.
The Mustangs conclude their regular season Thursday with a road match against Out-of-Door Academy. Although the season has been a bit of a disappointment, Ranch is still confident it can make a run during the postseason if its lineup is intact.
"We'll be alright," Lakewood Ranch head coach Ed Bongart said. "We've just got to get going."
David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7057 or on Twitter@DBWilson2.