BRADEN RIVER — Everyone on the Braden River High girls basketball team has made it a point to focus on one thing this season — playing together as a team.
For the Lady Pirates, team unity is no longer just an expression. It has become a way of practice.
“We all have the same mindset that we want to go to states,” senior center Kiki Mitchell says. “We’ve all been playing together for the past three years. We all play our part. There’s no individual person trying to do it all.”
The Lady Pirates are no longer simply playing for themselves. They are playing for one another, their coaches, their school and, most importantly, a 4-year-old boy who has shown the Lady Pirates the importance of never giving up.
During the summer, Braden River made the decision to adopt a child with a severe illness. Through the Payton Wright Foundation, the Lady Pirates were connected with Craig Livingston, whose son, Eddie, is battling stage 3 neuroblastoma.
The players put up pictures of Eddie in their locker room and made T-shirts in honor of Eddie’s Superman Eddie nickname. This past week, the girls finally had the opportunity to meet their little hero.
“He’s just so happy and he was so happy to be there,” junior guard Kelly Logan says. “He’s taught us to just be thankful — thankful that we have the opportunity play basketball.”
“We’re not playing for us anymore and we all understand it,” Mitchell says.
The Lady Pirates got off to a fast start this season, winning six of their first seven games before suffering a pair of district losses to Sarasota and Port Charlotte two weeks ago.
“Each year our program has gotten stronger, and our girls completely believe in what we are doing,” coach Carl Williams says. “The season is still early and I truly believe that we have one of the hardest districts in the state, so we are staying humble and just take one game at a time.
“We have a long way to go before we are even close to accomplishing our goals this season,” Williams says. “We are well aware that the meat of our season is ahead, as we have games with top teams in the state and multiple undefeated teams on the horizon. We are happy but far from satisfied.”
During the first half of their season, the Lady Pirates set several new school records, including their first win over Palmetto in five years and the most points scored in a game during their 71-38 victory over Booker Nov. 20.
Mitchell also holds the record for most rebounds and assists in a game; Logan has the most points in a game this season, and senior forward Alexis Stout has the most steals in a game.
Prior to the start of the season, Williams put together a list of goals for the Lady Pirates. The players already have achieved some of the goals on the list, but they know they still have a long way to go to get to where they ultimately want to be at the end of the season.
“We were the doormat for other teams and now we’re answering the door,” Mitchell says. “Our coach gave us goals and we feel like we are the best team. We feel we are capable of beating anyone.”
Senior forward Alexis Stout agrees.
“We’re a lot stronger of a team this year,” Stout says. “We can sub out and know that whoever comes in will be able to do the same thing. This year’s team is a lot tighter and we work together a lot better.”
Braden River will compete in the Jaguar Holiday Tournament Dec. 27 to Dec. 29, before preparing for the final half of their season, which includes four district games against Venice, Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Manatee. The Lady Pirates will then compete in the Class 7A-District 11 tournament with the hopes of advancing to the postseason for the first time.
“We are senior heavy and all of the girls in our program have been here since day one,” Williams says. “I want these young ladies to be able to experience the playoffs once before they graduate. We have been close in the past, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump, so hopefully this year we can.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].