Cardinals, Red Devils lead loaded field
Top-seeds Woodlawn, S-V face tough challenges
Thompsonville, Marissa-Coulterville loom large in 16-team bracket

– The 38th annual Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament is shaping up as the most balanced in the events most recent history.

The folks at SVHS have put together a strong 1A field with a couple of 2A teams thrown in for good measure as the 16-team bracketed tournament is set for four-days of boy's hoops the day after Christmas running into the Saturday final day.

The top four seeds in the event all look capable of bringing home the top prize while there are a few down the list that have more than just a “puncher's chance” to “knock out” one of the elite clubs from contention.

The top-seed is a familiar one in this event as they have won more than their share of hardware in the past ten seasons.

The Woodlawn Cardinals and head coach Brian Gamber enter the tournament with an 9-1 mark fresh off of wins over Odin and Webber Township at home to improve to 4-0 in the Midland Trail Conference.

The lone loss for the Cardinals was in the title game of the Kaskaskian Classic at Carlyle against 2A power Pinckneyville, 67-46.

Woodlawn sports wins over 2A Hillsboro, 2A Carlyle, 3A Freeburg at the Kaskaskian and also road wins over 1A teams Christopher and Christ Our Rock Lutheran.

A home win over rival Waltonville is also in the column.

Six-foot-two junior Blake McKay is the top scoring threat for Woodlawn along with 6-foot senior veteran guard Jackson Bennett.

McKay tops the Cards with 20.4 points, 4.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds a night.

Bennett adds 11.2 points and 4.3 assists.

Six-foot-three senior Jake Martin along with Chase Hollenkamp, a 6-foot-2 junior, are starters.

Martin is at 9.8 points a game while topping the crew with 7.8 rebounds while Hollenkamp is a 6.1 points a game.

Six-foot-two junior starter Race Rynski is likely out for this tournament with an ankle injury.

Five-foot-ten sophomore Jackson Tiemann and 6-foot-2 senior Aaron Spangler, are part of a deep rotation.

Sophomores Hayden and Hunter England have also given the program quality minutes.

Woodlawn has won seven SVHT Championships, including six-in-a-row from 2010-2015 and would like to add an eighth title to the vault.

The second-seed is the host Sesser-Valier Red Devils as Coach Shane Garner's club, like Woodlawn, have played a tough schedule of games leading up to this tournament.

The Red Devils (5-3) have wins over 2A West Frankfort, 1A Zeigler-Royalton, 2A Johnston City, 2A Vienna and 1A Christopher.

The losses are to 1A power and defending state champ Okawville, 2A (11-1) Fairfield, and 2A Chester.

Tyler Winchester, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is the team leader.

He is firing home 23.8 points and grabbing 4.2 rebounds a night for Coach Garner.

The rest of the team has scoring balance with five other Red Devils averaging between four and seven points a contest.

Six-foot-three senior Seth Boles and 5-foot-11 senior Reid Basso are starters.

Eli Gunter, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, is part of a trio of Gunter's (6-foot-1 sophomore Garrett and 6-foot-2 senior Gavin) on the squad.

Coach Garner has some depth with 6-foot-1 junior Tanner Eubanks, 5-foot-11 junior Logan Kirk and 6-foot-2 freshman Gavin Woodland.

After losing in overtime last season to Goreville in the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament championship game, the Red Devils are looking for some redemption this week.

The third-seed, the undefeated Thompsonville Tigers and head coach Pete Gordon, are looking for respect and the top trophy in the event.

The folks in Eastern Franklin County are excited about the club this winter.

After posting an 18-10 record in 2017-18, the Tigers have roared out of the gate this season, and they sit 12-0 heading to their first round matchup against Zeigler-Royalton, a team they already conquered, 61-36 in the first game of the season at the Christopher Turkey Tournament.

The Tigers won the Christopher event with additional wins over Norris City-Omaha-Enfield and the host Bearcats.

They have other victories over 1A teams Pope County, NCOE again, Carrier Mills-Stonefort, Webber Township, Goreville, Odin, Elverado and Century along with a 61-39 romp past 2A Hamilton County.

Through no fault of their own, Thompsonville doesn't play as tough of a schedule as some of the other teams in this tournament.

Only Pope County (10-7) and Elverado (10-3) have winning records as of this writing.

The combined won/loss mark of the teams that these Tigers have beaten so far is 48-67.

However they will have ample opportunity this week to prove any and all “naysayers” wrong.

Coach Gordon has three main scoring threats, which will make them difficult to deal with.

Six-foot-seven senior center Anthony Darge “roams the paint” and two guards (senior Tyson Kessler, a 5-foot-10 senior guard; junior Corbin Fitch) have produced from the outside.

Kessler and Fitch are leading the way as the senior guard has a 15 p.p.g average coming into the tournament while the junior guard brings a 14.6 points per game average to S-V.

Darge has come up “large” in his senior season, averaging 10.1 points along with 7.5 rebounds.

He is also the author of a near “triple-double” in the Christopher title game conquest as he scored 14-points, grabbed nine rebounds and rejected 10 Bearcat shot attempts.

The Tigers have some other good players that have also stepped up.

Five-foot-eight senior Peyton Roberts and 6-foot sophomore Grady Furlow have also stepped up their respective games; especially with the absence of 6-foot-5 senior Reed Raubach who has battled a hamstring injury.

Coach Gordon is optimistic that Raubach will return soon.

The Tigers copped the consolation championship last season at the SVHT and Coach Gordon and his troops are looking to stay on the “right” side of the bracket this time around.

The ABV team that could be the “sleeper” in this event is the Marissa-Coulterville Meteors and head coach Scott Wine.

The Meteors are sitting at 8-1 after a season opening loss to 2A Litchfield (who is currently 7-3 on the season) Marissa-Coulterville is on an eight-game win streak.

After the Litchfield defeat, M-C put together three-straight wins to take home the consolation bracket championship at the Metro-East Lutheran “Turkey Tip-Off” with victories over 2A Dupo, 1A Valmeyer and 3A Roxana.

Coach Wine saw his squad defeat 1A Elverado, 1A Father McGivney, 2A Dupo again and 1A Lebanon.

However the signature triumph came on December 7 when they throttled 1A ABV preseason fifth-ranked Steeleville, 70-40 at home.

Sebastian Ivory-Hicks is 6-foot-2 junior who transferred in from Belleville East.

He was on the Lancers' varsity last season and he is leading the Meteors in scoring this year at 18.2 points a night while 6-foot junior guard Logan Jones is averaging 16.2 p.p.g.

Cameron Bowlby, a 6-foot senior guard, has been averaging 4.3 points and 4.3 assists for the Meteors as they head into the tournament with a legitimate shot at the top prize.

Blake Steinwagner, a 6-foot-1 junior, averages right at eight-points a game for Coach Wine.

Thompsonville topped M-C in the consy title last December.

They two could meet again on the winner's side of the bracket on the final day of the event, perhaps for “all of the marbles?”

The fifth-seeded squad in the event is the 2A Sparta Bulldogs from the SIRR Mississippi Division and coached by Jon Norton.

The Bulldogs are (5-5) after splitting games this past week with Du Quoin (loss) and Valmeyer (win) on the road.

Sparta has victories over 2A Trico, 2A Red Bud, 2A Harrisburg, 1A Christopher and 1A Valmeyer.

The defeats have come against some good teams; 2A Chester, 1A Steeleville, 2A Pinckneyville, 2A Nashville and 2A Du Quoin.

Five-foot-ten junior Carlos Keen, a three-year starter for Sparta, Kerry Harris, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, and 5-foot-10 junior Tony Williams are all three near the double-figures in points this season for Coach Norton.

Dawson Algee, a 6-foot-3 freshman, has produced as has senior Deon Clark.

The Goreville Blackcats and head coach Todd Tripp come into the event as the defending champions.

Last season was the best in the boy's basketball history as the Blackcats finished fourth in the state in 1A last March.

Nearly everyone who suited up for varsity last winter has left and this season the newcomers are getting better after a rough start in their own tournament.

Goreville comes into the SVHT with wins over 2A Anna-Jonesboro, 2A Johnston City, 1A Zeigler-Royalton and 1A Mounds Meridian.

They have lost to 3A Benton, 1A Hardin County, 2A Hamilton County, 1A Thompsonville and 2A West Frankfort.

A win this past week at home over Gallatin County puts the Blackcats at 5-5 on the season.

Coach Tripp mentioned Logyn Frassato, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, who is back.

Six-foot-two junior forward Landon Albright tops the Blackcats with 14.5 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.

Luke Brown, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, nets 10.8 a night while 5-foot-11 freshman Briley Dunn adds nine-points to the mix.

Logyn Frassato, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, averages eight-points and 5.5 rebounds.

Six-foot-three junior Trent Glidewell is out for the Blackcats with a broken hand and he won't be back until January.

The Blackcats have played a lot of close games with four of their losses by a total of nine-points.

The Johnston City Indians and head coach Scott Burzynski sit at 4-7 entering the tournament and are the number seven-seed.

The Indians have wins over 2A Hamilton County and 2A Anna-Jonesboro at the Goreville Invitational Tournament on the resume from early in the campaign.

They added road wins at 2A Carmi-White County and, most recently, a victory at Galatia.

The losses have been to some good teams; 2A Fairfield, 1A Sesser-Valier, 2A Vienna and 2A Eldorado along with early tournament losses at Goreville to 3A Benton, 1A Goreville and 1A Hardin County.

Six-foot-one senior guard Chase Selby and 5-foot-10 senior Houston Hall are the top two guns in the holster for the Tribe.

Austin Brown, a 6-foot-1 freshman, has been a big help for Coach Burzynski.

Selby leads the way with 17 points a night while Hall (14 p.p.g.) and Brown (10 p.p.g.) give the Indians three scoring options.

They have a tough opening round matchup against Cobden.

The Christopher Bearcats are the eighth-seeded club under the leadership of Coach Eric Stallman.

These Bearcats sit at 5-4 on the year with wins over 1A Webber Township and 1A Wayne City (in overtime) at their own Christopher Turkey Tournament along with victories over 1A Cobden, 1A Waltonville and 2A Trico most recently.

The four losses are to some class, 1A Thompsonville, 1A Sesser-Valier, 1A Woodlawn and 2A Sparta.

All four are entered in the SVHT.

Coach Stallman has two players leading the way in points with Bryce Pratt, a 6-foot junior, directing the 'Cats with 18.3 p.p.g.

Five-foot-ten senior Dalton Saeger adds 10.3 points to the totals.

Three other players; Kyle Garver, Gabe Motsinger and Gage Hawkins, are all in the six-to-seven points a night range.

The Cobden Appleknockers (7-6) are not in the top eight-seeds but they are a threat to take home some hardware.

Coach Wendell Wheeler took over the program this past off-season and, after a tough beginning of the campaign, the Appleknockers are playing much better.

They have early season victories over 1A Carrier Mills-Stonefort, 1A Century and 2A Vienna at the Vienna “Turkey Classic.”

They also own triumphs over 1A Dongola, 1A Joppa and an overtime win over Elverado on the road.

Most recently they added a win over 1A Cairo.

They lost at 2A Anna-Jonesboro, also in overtime, 3A Massac County, 1A Mounds Meridian.

Two losses at the Vienna Classic were from 2A Eldorado and 1A Galatia.

All six of the defeats were single-digit losses.

The tough contests so far have they primed for a big SVHT showing and are involved in a very good first round matchup with JC.

Coach Wheeler has a quality frontcourt with 6-foot-5 junior Joe Brumleve and 6-foot-5 sophomore Noah Franklin.

Both are big-time scoring threats and difficult matchups for the opposition.

The Odin Eagles are sitting at 5-7 after a loss to 2A Flora at the North Clay Shootout December 22.

Coach Tyler Mitchell will bring his club into the event with wins over 1A Lebanon, 1A Christ Our Rock Lutheran, 1A Patoka, 1A Zeigler-Royalton and 1A South Central.

They have other losses to 2A Litchfield, 2A powerhouse Alton Marquette, 1A North Clay, 1A Webber Township, 1A Thompsonville and 1A Woodlawn.

Lucas Shaffer, a 6-foot-2 junior guard and three-year starter, leads the Eagles.

He has been hampered a bit since the beginning of the season after having an emergency appendectomy two weeks before the first practice.

He is getting better and so are the Eagles' chances with him being healthier.

Six-foot senior Gage Roberts and 6-foot-4 senior Dylan Friend are also key players for Odin heading into the tournament.

The New Athens Yellow Jackets and head coach Conrad Widdersheim bring a 5-4 mark to the tournament.

The Yellow Jackets are part of the Cahokia Conference and have played a few of the teams in this tournament.

New Athens has two wins over 1A Zeigler-Royalton and 1A Waltonville in the first week as they nabbed their second-consecutive Christopher Turkey Tournament consolation championship back in November.

They also have victories over 1A Valmeyer, 2A Trico and 1A Lebanon.

The defeats have come against 1A toughie Waterloo Gibault, 2A Dupo, 1A Norris City-Omaha-Enfield along with a 57-48 loss to 1A Elverado heading into the tourney.

Coach Widdersheim has three kids popping home double-figures in scoring.

George Schneider, a 5-foot-8 senior, leads the Jackets with 15 points a night while point guard Joey Range is a 6-foot-1 junior who nets 14 p.p.g.

Dylan Boone, a 5-foot-10 junior, adds 10.2 points a night for NA.

Waltonville is sitting at 4-5 on the campaign for second-year Spartans' coach Anthony Lowery.

The victories have come against 1A Webber Township, 1A Sandoval, 1A Patoka and 1A Christ Our Rock Lutheran.

The defeats have come at the hands of 1A Wayne City, 1A New Athens, 1A Christopher, 1A rival Woodlawn and 1A Crab Orchard.

Five-foot-ten senior point guard Jayon Malone is the top scorer for the Spartans.

Coach CJ Cruser brings his Red Bud Musketeers into the tournament for the first time and his club has a single win over East Alton-Wood River as they come into the tournament at 1-10.

The Musketeers have struggled with an inexperienced group.

They have, however, been in with some good teams; most notably 3A Freeburg, 2A Wesclin, 1A Steeleville (twice) and tournament entry 2A Sparta.

Coach Cruser has two kids averaging just under 10 points a game; 6-foot-1 junior Carter Wiegard and 6-foot junior Jaden Birkner as Coach Cruser continues to build towards the future.

Head coach Matt Morgan has his Zeigler-Royalton Tornadoes feeling much better about themselves.

After not winning a game last winter, Z-R snagged a win over Webber Township back on November 30.

Z-R has losses to 1A Thompsonville, 1A New Athens and 1A Webber Township to open the season at Christopher and then defeats to 1A Sesser-Valier, 1A Goreville, 1A Odin, 2A Vienna and 2A Chester.

Six-foot-six sophomore Gannon Dollins is among several youngsters who are the future of this program that continues to improve.

The Galatia Bearcats (3-7) have just three wins with all three coming in the first week of the season.

The Bearcats went 3-2 at the Vienna “Turkey Classic” with one of the wins a 60-56 decision over Cobden on November 20.

The other two wins were against Carrier Mills-Stonefort and Century.

Coach Rod Wallace's club is currently on a six-game losing streak heading into the SVHT.

The defeats have come against 2A Eldorado, 1A Pope County, 1A Crab Orchard, 1A Norris City-Omaha-Enfield, 1A Joppa and 2A Johnston City.

The Century Centurions are 2-8 on the season for Coach Mark Zahm.

They have wins over 1A Shawnee and 1A Joppa on the slate.

They lost all five games they played at the Vienna “Turkey Classic” and have defeats to 1A Thompsonville, 1A Mounds Meridian and 1A Egyptian as well.