Defending champion Eldorado is hoping to make it two in a row when the 53rd annual Eldorado Holiday Tournament opens Thursday with nine games.

“This year might be one of the more competitive fields we’ve ever had,” said Eldorado coach Josh Bradley, whose team won its first championship since 2007 last year. “Even though West Frankfort and Herrin are off to rough starts with the caliber of teams they have played, their records aren’t what they really are, so there are going to be some tough first-round matchups. After the first round there are going to be some pretty good games because every team is pretty close. I think if you aren’t ready to play on a given night, there could be some upsets.”

Eldorado comes in undefeated at 11-0 and the top seed after having beaten fourth seed Fairfield, eight seed Gallatin County, Hamilton County, Vienna and West Frankfort, as well as Carrier Mills twice. The Eagles play the second to last game of the first round against NCOE at 7 p.m. on Thursday. 

“We’ve seen a lot of these teams, and I think the strongest teams are us and Harrisburg (9-2) followed by Anna-Jonesboro (8-3) and Fairfield,” Bradley said. “Coach Joe Hosman’s team, Massac County, is the seventh seed and comes in with a losing record, but just beat Anna-Jonesboro, who is the third seed, so who’s going to win it all is kind of up in the air.”

The Eagles have taken up where they left off last year, when they finished with a 28-4 record, the third-best in school history.

“Right now, we are one game ahead of where we were at this time last year, so this year’s team is probably one of the better teams we’ve have in the past several years,” Bradley said.

The 16-team tournament opens at 8:30 a.m. when 2015 champion Massac County takes on Hamilton County, followed by four-time champion (2010-2013) and second seed Harrisburg playing Hardin County at 10 a.m. and Anna-Jonesboro against Carrier Mills at 11:30 a.m.

The afternoon games tip off at 1:45 p.m., with a cross-state battle between sixth seed Union County (KY) and Edwards County. Fifth seed Carmi-White County and Herrin tangle at 3:15 p.m., followed by Fairfield and West Frankfort at 4:45 p.m.

“Union County’s coach is pretty high on his team,” Bradley said. “They have a kid who is 6-4, 6-5 inside scoring 20 points with 14 rebounds and another kid scoring 14 or 15. They were a young team last year and (he's) got all his kids back and likes his chances.”

The opening day ends with eighth seed Gallatin County playing Vienna at 8 p.m., followed by the first consolation bracket game at 10 p.m. between the losers of the first two games of the tournament.

A full slate of nine games are on tap for Friday, starting with three consolation bracket games in the morning starting at 8:30 a.m. between the losers of the Anna-Jonesboro/Carrier Mills and Union County/Edwards County games.

The afternoon opens at 1:45 p.m. with two championship bracket games between the winners of Massac County/Hamilton County and Harrisburg/Hardin County followed by the winners of the Anna-Jonesboro/Carrier Mills and Union County/Edwards County. The first consolation semifinal winds up the afternoon at 4:45 p.m.

The second day evening slate features championship bracket games starting at 7 p.m. with the winners of Carmi/Herrin and Fairfield/West Frankfort followed by the winners of the Eldorado/NCOE and Gallatin County/Vienna games. The last game of the day is the second consolation semifinal starting at 10 p.m.

Championship Saturday opens with the quarterfinal losers playing at 8:30 and 10 a.m. for the rights to advance to the fifth place game scheduled for 6 p.m.

The afternoon opens with the semifinal games at noon and 1:30 p.m. followed by the consolation championship game at 3 p.m. The evening continues with the third place game at 7:30 and the championship game at 9 p.m.

“If the seeds play out the way they should and Eldorado and Harrisburg happen to meet for the championship, then it should be a very good crowd for a Saturday night on a holiday weekend,” Bradley said. “We still have to play the games, but if it does work out that way, this would be the first time we’ve met each other in the championship game as far as I can remember. Our gym holds right at 5,000 people and last year it was standing room only every night.”

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