Mules look to "kick' down EHT door
Fairfield, Massac, Herrin, Gallatin County round out top seeds

– Heading into the 54th annual Eldorado Holiday Tournament the defending champions, the host Eagles are the eighth-seed as they lost a lot of talented kids from a two-season run that produced the most wins in the school's storied history.

Head coach Josh Bradley guided his troops to a 54-7 mark, including an 8-0 run through consecutive holiday tournament conquests.

If these hosts are going to spring an upset upset to join Norris City-Omaha-Enfield as the only EHT three-peat champion, they will likely have to conquer a team that is seeded number one for a reason.

The Fairfield Mules gained that top spot with an impressive 11-0 start to the season and, despite a heartbreaking 60-58 overtime loss to unbeaten Casey-Westfield last Friday at home, they are clearly the team to beat in the EHT.

Coach Scott McElravy has led this club to some big wins this year, most noteworthy a 4-0 start to the campaign by winning the Lawrence County Capital Classic with victories over Lawrenceville, Olney Richland County, 3A Salem and a 74-64 title game triumph over Teutopolis to win its first ever LCC championship.

This preview should begin with MVP of that event, Fairfield point-guard Jayzale O'Neal, a 5-foot-11 senior transfer from nearby Wayne City, who has fit this program like a glove.

O'Neal averages just under 15 points a night for the Mules.

Coach McElravy has some other good ones to lean on, including 6-foot-3 senior forward Landon Zurliene, 6-foot-6 senior Brian Estes and 5-foot-10 junior Wyatt Gilbert.

Six-foot-three junior forward Kane Hixenbaugh also is part of a strong starting lineup for the Mules, who won the EHT back in 2006.

Fairfield has wins over EHT teams Hamilton County, Edwards County and the hosts.

They also have a victory over 1A toughie Sesser-Valier and Lawrenceville twice.

Massac County and head coach Joe Hosman are no strangers to the winner's circle in this event, having won the championship six times.

Coach Hosman, who has a "wheelbarrow full" of high school hoops' wins, leads another talented squad to the fray.

Six-foot-two Julian Russell tops the list for the Patriots in scoring at 14.9 p.p.g.

Marshon Merriel, a 6-foot-2 senior, added 11.4 to the totals while 6-foot junior Zach Travis is at 8.3 a night for the 7-2 Pats.

The third-seed is the Herrin Tigers and head coach Sayler Shurtz.

These Cats have been in some dog fights in the early going as they are 6-3 overall coming into their opening matchup.

Drew Ringle, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is a three-year starter for Herrin and he is averaging just over 14 points a game while teammate Luke LeQuatte, a 6-foot-4 junior, added nine a night.

Gallatin County is the number-four seed and this 1A club has upped their overall regular season schedule in preparation for this event and later on in the campaign.

In his first season calling the shots, Coach Jeff Herrmann has the Hawks sitting at 9-4 with the losses coming to Massac County, Du Quoin, Red Hill and Goreville on the road last week.

Senior's Audie Goebel (19.2 p.p.g.), Robbie Prince, and Garret Rushing have all, along with junior guard Dawson Hish, averaged double-digits in scoring.

The gauntlet of games will help the Hawks try to extend themselves into the winner's side of the bracket.

The host Eldorado Eagles are the fifth-seed in the tournament and they are led by senior guard Joe Mayberry, who is just over 15 points per outing.

It isn't often that you would see a pair of Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference teams hook up in the first round of this tournament but sixth-seeded West Frankfort will tackle Anna-Jonesboro in the first contest of the event at 8:30 am on Thursday.

Coach Evan Wyllie, in his first season holding the reigns, has his Redbirds sitting at 5-5 overall with victories over Pinckneyville, Carterville, Harrisburg, Salem and Goreville while the losses have come to Sesser-Valier, Trenton-Wesclin, Eldorado, Benton and Marion.

Senior forward CJ Johnson leads the 'Birds with 16.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.

The Lions of Edwards County have a good scorer in 6-foot-1 senior Cade Schnicker (15.4 p.p.g.) while 6-foot-5 senior Justin Wallace (14.4 p.p.g.) and 6-foot-3 senior Marty Schmittler (10.2 p.p.g.) gives Coach Russ Gerlach three tough defensive matchups.

Edwards County is 5-4 heading into the tournament.

Carterville is the eighth-seed as the Lions come into the event as a newcomer, replacing Union County (KY.).

Head coach Shane Hawkins has his club sitting at 4-6, which is more wins than Carterville managed in 2017-18 (3-27).

The Lions will play Hardin County in the opening game as the Cougars sit at 5-3 overall with wins over Johnston City, Hamilton County, Norris City-Omaha-Enfield, Goreville and Carrier Mills-Stonefort.

Jaron Austin, a 6-foot-1 senior, leads the team into the EHT.

Head coach Mike Chamness will have to set the alarm for the early morning showdown with WF.

His Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats are just 3-8 on the season but they have been in with some quality opponents, including powers Nashville and Pinckneyville.

Tyler Smith (14.1 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Blake Pena (11.4 points, 3.5 assists) are main players for A-J.

Carmi-White County and head coach Kevin Wolff come into the tournament and get a rematch of their first round game they had last December as they face Herrin Thursday morning.

The Bulldogs are just 2-6 so far and they have been led by junior Ethan Mahon with 16 points and five rebounds for CWC while senior forward Adam Phelps is averaging a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) according to Coach Wolff.

Head coach Doug Miller will now bring his third different school to the EHT after having led both Gallatin County and Norris City-Omaha-Enfield to this tournament.

His Hamilton County squad is young and inexperienced and it shows with the just a 1-9 mark.

Vienna will make for a interesting matchup with Edwards County the first day as Coach Cory Waters' Eagles enter the mix with 6-6 mark with a lot of good teams on the schedule in 2018-19.

Six-foot-one Justin Casey (8.4 p.p.g.) and 6-foot-4 Gabe Snell (10.7 p.p.g.) along with
6-foot-1 Kyle VanCleve (8.6 p.p.g) and 6-foot-4 Zane Hutchison (7.6 p.p.g.) are offensive weapons for the Eagles.

Norris City-Omaha-Enfield is led by 6-foot-3 senior Brandon Skaggs and two sophomores, CJ Richardson and Jack Riggs.

Coach Jim Tucker and his Fighting Cardinals are 3-6 overall.

Coach Randy Smithpeters and his Harrisburg Bulldogs (2-7) have had a very tough season with an inexperienced team on the floor.

Harrisburg has a win over Red Bud and a forfeit win over St. Louis (MO.) Confluence JV at the Trico/Murphysboro Tournament.

Carrier Mills-Stonefort (2-8) and head coach Keil Peebles have wins over Century and Dongola.