EAST MANATEE -- Matt Nesser had a short but important message for his Braden River boys basketball team.
"You lose, you are done," Nesser told the host Pirates before they took the floor for their Class 7A-District 11 tournament opener on Monday night.
On paper, this looked like a gigantic mismatch. Braden River (17-8) had beaten Manatee easily twice this season, and the Hurricanes were struggling through a 1-23 season.
But that was Nesser's biggest worry.
"I told them if you lose, you are out, and you need to take every game seriously," Nesser said. "In a game like this, they have everything to gain, and you've got to take care of business."
It turned out the coach's message was needed in the Pirates' 54-38 victory.
Braden River was focused at the outset of the game and jumped out to a 16-2 lead after one quarter and was ahead 28-10 at halftime.
But Manatee never quit and cut its deficit to 50-38 with 1:16 remaining in the game after trailing by 26 points midway through the third quarter.
"I am glad we played. We got some bench people some playing time and that was important," Nesser said. "Our starters did what they had to do initially. We took them out, and when they came back, it was hard to get going not take anything away from Manatee."
Braden River had 11 people hit the scoring column. Guards Zach Kendall and Terrance Cummings led the way
with 11 points. Trevon Young scored seven points and topped the Pirates on the boards with 10 rebounds.
Braden River dominated the boards in the first half, hauling in 20 rebounds (seven offensive) to only five for Manatee. The Canes shot 4 for 20 in the first half and 15 for 51 for the game. Braden River connected on 18 of 47 field goal attempts.
"Our guards played well, and we shared the ball. We really looked for the open man," Nesser said. "Zach Bolan did a great. He has the best assist-to-turnover margin on the team. He had four assists tonight and is averaging 4.5 per game."
Manatee was led by Diontay Dozier who had nine points and Eddie Turner who contributed seven. The Hurricanes only victory this season came against Sarasota.
"It has been a long season, but this group right here has been with me for the last two years, and I admire them for what they have done," Manatee head coach Randy Smith said. "They never quit regardless of how bad it looks. They always played hard until the end regardless of the score, and that's all we can do."
The No. 3-seed Pirates travel to play second seed Punta Gorda Charlotte on Wednesday night in a district tournament semifinal. Braden River, which has won two straight district titles, has lost twice to the Tarpons this season.
"We have to take a different route this season going on the road, but I am looking forward to it. I won't sleep for two days," Nesser said. "We go on the road, and there is a different referring association down there and the whole nine yards. But sometimes, that's good. Sometimes, you get your work hat on and do it.
"At home, you can get a little lackadaisical and take things for granted. Maybe this team needs to be challenged like that. We still have yet to play our best basketball. What we need to be is be patient offensively and get back on transition defense."
ST. PETERSBURG DIXIE HOLLINS 65, LAKEWOOD RANCH 59-- The host Rebels ended the Mustangs' season in a Class 6A-District 12 quarterfinal, outscoring Lakewood Ranch 24-13 in the final quarter to pull out the win.