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Braden River boys basketball team makes statement with early play

The Pirates are 6-2 as of Dec. 15 and beat local rival Lakewood Ranch High for the first time since 2014.

Braden River junior Marcus Schade shoots over Lakewood Ranch senior Trey Holweger (24).
Braden River junior Marcus Schade shoots over Lakewood Ranch senior Trey Holweger (24).
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If it was not clear things are different on the East County boys basketball scene in 2022, what happened on Dec. 15 expelled any lingering doubts. 

Braden River High (6-2) hosted rival Lakewood Ranch High (1-8) that night. The Pirates have had successful seasons over the years, but even in those years, Braden River has found it difficult to overcome the Mustangs. Entering the Dec. 15 game, Braden River had not beaten Lakewood Ranch since December 2014, when the Pirates eked out a 40-38 victory.

That eight-year losing streak has now ended.

The Pirates downed the Mustangs 59-49 despite one of their leaders, junior guard Isaac Heaven, exiting the game in the first half with a right knee injury. Normally, a 10-point win over a struggling team doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of a team's season, but for the Pirates — under first-year Coach Dwight Gilmer — this one was a sign that things actually are different. 

"This is a huge confidence-builder, to finally beat the team from down the street," Gilmer said. "There's going to be a buzz in the school from this. These guys are working hard and trying to do some things this year. We're excited about the road we're traveling." 

Braden River boys basketball Coach Dwight Gilmer came to the school from Bayshore High.

Gilmer came to Braden River after coaching Bayshore High for four years and compiling a 48-56 record. Gilmer said he did not know exactly what he had with the Pirates roster. Braden River went 7-18 a season ago and ended the year on a five-game losing streak. From the outside, it didn't seem like a program primed for a quick turnaround. But the presence of two players in particular — Heaven and junior guard Marcus Schade — has sent the Pirates on a winning path.

Heaven, who is 6-foot-3, is averaging 12 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2 assists per game. Schade, 6-foot-2, is averaging 10.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. When Heaven left the Lakewood Ranch game early, Schade further stepped up his game, finishing with 21 points and constantly disrupting the Mustangs' passing lanes with his reach. Other Pirates, like hard-charging senior guard John Smith III and lanky sophomore forward Cooper Smith, give the team enough depth to stay afloat. 

Schade said the program's resurgence began during the offseason, when Gilmer had the Pirates do more team bonding activities than they were used to doing. Backyard cookouts at various houses, complete with dips in the pool, became the norm. 

"It's all culture," Schade said. "When we walk into the gym now, we're a unit. We have to stay together."

Schade said there are still things he notices the Pirates could do better. Their defensive rotations are a bit slow, and that's a big one; they need to get set soon, Schade said. If Braden River is not yet a perfect team, it is a much improved one, and Schade said the team is having more fun this year because the Pirates are playing for each other. 

It's exactly what Gilmer wants to hear. With Heaven likely to miss at least a game or two with his knee injury, Gilmer said he is anxious to see if the team continues to play at the level it has thus far. He's not going to change the team's game plan, he said. The Pirates will continue to play a fast-paced, up-and-down style with aggressive defense. It's a style he hopes endears the program to the school and area sports fans at large. 

"We need the community to come out," Gilmer said. "We would love for these stands to be a little more full soon. But that comes with winning, and I get that. Hopefully, we're building a winning culture here and people will gravitate toward that. I hope people are seeing the effort these young men are putting in and they decide to support them." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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