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Prose and Kohn

Braden River High baseball saves its best for big moments

After an up-and-down start to 2024, the Pirates have shown mental fortitude and stayed the course.

Braden River High baseball juniors Jacoby Cox (6) and Nick Curbelo (9) celebrate with junior Uriel Barrios (2) after Barrios' game-winning RBI against Lakewood Ranch High on April 11.
Braden River High baseball juniors Jacoby Cox (6) and Nick Curbelo (9) celebrate with junior Uriel Barrios (2) after Barrios' game-winning RBI against Lakewood Ranch High on April 11.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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After 12 innings of baseball spanning four hours on April 11, Uriel Barrios sent everyone home. 

With Braden River High (10-10) and Lakewood Ranch High (9-8-1) tied 1-1, Barrios, a Braden River junior, smacked a base hit past the Mustangs' infielders and into left field. The home Braden River crowd erupted. Junior Camden Pope rounded third base and sprinted home to give the Pirates a 2-1 win, and the rest of the team sprinted to Barrios, giving him plenty of shoulder bumps.

Barrios' hit was just the 10th hit of the game for both teams combined, with the Pirates managing six and the Mustangs managing four. The game was a test of mental focus as much as it was a test of skill. In the 12th inning — the equivalent of 1.7 typical high school baseball games, which last seven innings — players on both teams were frustrated by the lack of offensive punch. It was Braden River that finally capitalized on its opportunity. 

That, according to Braden River Head Coach Greg Creek, is no stroke of luck. 

"It is so easy in baseball to be an individual and focus on your stats," Creek said. "We are trying to get these guys to, day in and day out, focus on the task at hand instead of the result. We try to keep our emotions in check, which is hard for some of these guys. It's an emotional game, it's a roller coaster. These guys are maturing in front of us." 

Junior Uriel Barrios leads off the game for Braden River High baseball against Lakewood Ranch High on April 11. Barrios would eventually get the game-winning hit and RBI in the 12th inning.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

The win over Lakewood Ranch is not the only big game the team has recently won. On April 6, the Pirates won 8-2 over Venice High (17-2) on the road. Venice entered that game on a 16-game winning streak and is ranked as the No. 1 team in Florida High School Class 7A, and No. 4 in the state, by MaxPreps as of April 12. Yet the Pirates blasted the Indians' pitching, hitting five extra-base hits, and held the Indians' offense to six hits. Overall, the Pirates have won three of four after a four-game losing streak. 

Has the team blossomed at the right time? Creek believes so. The Pirates have five regular-season games left before district tournaments begin April 29. At that point, games will get tighter and the intensity will skyrocket. Learning to win close games now will prepare the team for the road ahead, Creek said. 

Creek, who is in year two with Braden River, would know. He spent five seasons playing minor league baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization, reaching the Double-A level and hitting .263 for his career. Though Creek never reached the majors, he learned how to play the game with a professional mindset. That is something Creek is now trying to pass onto his players, he said. 

Creek wants the Pirates to handle their business like a pro ball player would, meaning never getting too high or too low after making a great play or a mistake. Success and failure are not one-time things. Baseball, Creek said, requires constant improvement. Every drill is an opportunity to get better, whether that means a session in the batting cages or outfield pop-up practice. High school players are not always going to make the right decisions, Creek said, but they can take the right approach, which will help them make the right decision next time. 

Unwavering focus leading to later successes: It sounds a lot like the formula the Pirates used against Lakewood Ranch. Barrios, who excels more as a pitcher than a hitter, entered his 12th-inning at-bat 0-4, and hitting .130 for the season according to MaxPreps statistics. It was Barrios who put all of that aside in his mind to get the hit the team needed. 

"I wanted the game to be over," Barrios said, wiping drops of sweat and water off his face. "I knew in the back of my head that I was going to be the guy to do it."

And about that water cooler bath Barrios received after his game winning hit?

"I'm actually freezing now," Barrios said. "My pants are soaking wet — everything's soaking wet. But it's refreshing. We got the win." 

Junior pitcher Nick Curbelo started for Braden River High against Lakewood Ranch High on April 11. He allowed one run in four innings. Curbelo has a 2.14 season ERA.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

It would have been easy for the Pirates to fold against Lakewood Ranch, just like it would have been easy to fold after that four-game losing streak — two of which came against the Mustangs. Braden River did not fold in either scenario. The Pirates' pitching staff, which holds a 2.88 ERA, and team defense have carried the team while the offense finds itself. Barrios has a 1.26 ERA over 33.1 innings. Junior Nick Curbelo, who started against Lakewood Ranch, has a 2.14 ERA over 32.2 innings. 

Braden River will, at some point, need its bats to awaken. Hitting .219 as a team will not be good enough to win with consistency. But there is something to be said for keeping composure, for getting the hits you need when you need them the most. 

It's what Creek hopes will continue. 

"We are never going to hit a bunch of home runs," Creek said. "We grind out games. We throw strikes. We make plays on defense. And in close games, we can get the big hit. We're getting tougher and tougher."



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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