WAUCHULA - Braden River High's boys came into the Class 4A-District 10 tournament playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Pirates won three straight, including a victory over Manatee High in the regular season finale.
But in the opening round of the district tournament, upstart Braden River learned it still has work to do. The Pirates (4-19) couldn't keep up with Wauchula Hardee from a physical standpoint and failed to do much on the offensive or defensive end in a 62-38 loss to the second-seeded Wildcats.
"If you noticed, our last couple games, we held teams for the whole games to 40 points, not in the first half," said Braden River coach Matt Nesser. "You can't give up 39 points and expect to win with the offense we have. We need to rely on our defense and keeping the score low."
Most of the Wildcats' points in the first half came on the inside, and the majority of those came off offensive rebounds.
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"They had nine or 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, and those offensive rebounds usually equate to points because you are getting back right under the basket - and (Wauchula) is athletic," said Nesser.
The Pirates were smaller at nearly every position, but Braden River's Mike Romero said those offensive rebounds were much more about effort, or Braden River's lack thereof, than they were about size.
"They killed us on the boards," said Romero, who started at center because the Pirates' starting lineup was juggled for disciplinary reasons. "We didn't play as hard as we usually do. (Getting to) loose balls is what we needed to work on. We played Manatee, and they had the same size as (Wauchula), and we still beat Manatee."
Nesser said the Wildcats won the loose ball battle in the first half 9-1.
"They move the ball well. The kids play hard," said Wildcats coach Vance Dickey, whose team lost to the Pirates early in the season when most of his players were still playing football. "They just don't have the experience, and right now they don't have the height. I'm sure that will come around, but they play a good brand of basketball."
The Pirates picked up their defensive and rebounding effort in the second half, but they struggled to find a way to get the ball in the basket.
"We couldn't put it in the ocean, but, hey, when you are on the road you aren't going to shoot as well as normally, so you have to play better defense," said Nesser.
Romero and Mike Egloff each scored 12 points, while Kal Almadani added 10. Only two other Pirates made a field goal.
Hardee, which will play the winner of today's game between Sarasota Booker and Sebring, was led by the 6-foot-5 Mark St. Fort, and 6-1 guard Jermaine King, who both scored 17 points.
"This is a very good district," Nesser said. "Top to bottom, these guys are athletic, and these guys can play. They finish above the rim. (The district) had a state champion last year, and DeSoto is just as good this year. And Hardee is a very good team, too."
BRADEN RIVER (38) - Willie McNeal 1 0-1 2, Mike Romero 4 4-5 12, Kal Almadani 3 2-2 10, Davonn Williams 1 0-0 2, Brendan Lissy 0 0-0 0, Joe Brito 0 0-0 0, Neil Walker 0 0-0 0, Joe Moreau 0 0-0 0, Andrew Ramthun 0 0-0 0, Nick Patel 0 0-0 0, Mark McKoan 0 0-0 0, Mike Egloff 5 2-2 12, Tim Kenney 0 0-0 0, Greg McCulla 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 8-11 38.
WAUCHULA HARDEE (62) - Alex Flores 0 0-0 0, Josh Jackson 0 0-0 0, Ryan Blair 0 0-0 0, Pete Solis 0 1-2 1, Mark St. Fort 8 1-2 17, Arnold Louis 6 0-1 12, Weston Palmer 2 2-2 6, Marwin Simmons 0 2-4 2, Olnel Virgile 1 0-0 2, Jermaine King 7 3-5 17, Tyrone Pace 2 1-1 5. Totals: 29 10-18 62
Braden River 11 10 7 10 - 38
Wauchula Hardee 18 21 10 13 - 62
3-pointers: Braden River 2 (Almadani 2). Total fouls: Braden River 19, Wauchula Hardee 13. Records: Braden River 4-19; Wauchula Hardee 13-10.
CLASS 4A-DISTRICT 10
Wauchula Hardee 62, Braden River 38
CLASS 5A-DISTRICT 12
At Lakewood Ranch
Manatee vs. Venice, 6 p.m.
Bayshore vs. Punta Gorda Charlotte, 7:30 p.m
CLASS 4A-DISTRICT 10
At Wauchula Hardee
Avon Park vs. Palmetto, 6 p.m.
CLASS 3A-DISTRICT 12
At Cardinal Mooney
Cardinal Mooney vs. Fort Myers Gateway Charter, 7 p.m.
CLASS 2A-DISTRICT 11
At St. Petersburg
St. Pete Admiral Farragut vs. Saint Stephen's, 6 p.m.
CLASS 1A-DISTRICT 12
At Out-of-Door Academy
Sarasota Christian vs. Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.