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Boys Basketball | Season Previews: Fairfield has new lineup in Black Diamond East

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The Fairfield Mules have been an easy pick for favorite the past few years in the Black Diamond Conference's East Division, but after a run of dominance, there's a completely-new lineup this season.

That's not saying anyone should pick against the Mules.

Here's a look at each team in the conference, including newcomer Flora. If you're looking for Johnston City, the Indians got slid over into the West Division.

Eldorado Eagles

Three starters return from head coach Josh Bradley's squad that went 10-4 in the spring, including 5-foot-10 junior Parker Price who tossed in 10 points per game. Gage Heath, a 5-8 junior, is back after dishing out eight assists per game in the spring and Boston Bradley, now a 6-4 sophomore, is back after averaging seven points and 10 rebounds.

Three seniors — Chase Kittinger, Trevor Milligan and Dylan Henshaw — are now varsity regulars. Kittinger is back after some time away but is "very athletic" in Bradley's words. Milligan, who's 6-3, is a "good defender" and a "very smart player." Henshaw is also a strong defender and can finish in the paint, Bradley said.

"I think we are young in experience, but we are athletic and play hard," Bradley said. "For me that’s always the expectation of our program — we are going to be physical and play hard. Hopefully that helps us have a chance in the fourth quarter to win."

Another newcomer to the varsity is junior Josh Owens, who averaged 17 points per game for the JV squad last season.

Eldorado's season started at the Vienna Classic and included wins over Meridian and Carrier Mills-Stonefort, along with a one-point loss to Cobden. There were also losses to host Vienna and Massac County, the team that ultimately went 5-0 and ended the Eagles' streak of winning the tourney for four straight years with a perfect record each time.

Eldorado also has its own historic holiday tournament coming up and plays in the new Johnston City mid-winter tourney, as well.

"We have a team that has to figure out a few roles early," Bradley said, "but I think we can be someone you don’t want to play late."

Carmi White County Bulldogs

Just one starter returns for Carmi-White County, but it's a dandy in 6-foot-4 swingman Bryce Conner.

"Bryce is very gifted and should be one of the better players in the conference," said CWC coach Kevin Wolff, whose team went 16-16 in the spring.

Joining the varsity are seniors Ty Stubblefield and Brody Attebury. Stubblefield is a 5-10 guard, while Attebury is a 6-foot forward. They're joined by 6-2 forward Tyler Goemaat and 5-11 forward Branten Stockton, who are both juniors.

Wolff also has four underclassmen on the varsity roster vying for minutes, including sophomore guards Landon Driscoll and Trey Dixon. Freshman Mitchell Edwards provides some height at 6-4, while another freshman, Gavin Holloman, provides more guard depth.

"I am really excited about this year's team," Wolff said. "It is a different type of team than what we have had in the past. We are a younger team and it may take us some time before we begin playing our best basketball."

Well, maybe not. The Bulldogs went on a 21-2 run in the first quarter of their opener and trounced Gallatin County, 49-27. This week, they get rolling at the Du Quoin Tip-off Classic. Carmi also hosts a mid-winter tournament.

Fairfield Mules

It's either rebuilding or reloading, depending on your optimism level, for the first time in a long time in Fairfield.

Mules head coach Scott McElravy has to put together an entirely-new starting lineup after enjoying a team that went 28-5 in 2019 and then went 17-2 in the spring — but also inherits a squad that went undefeated in JV games.

Junior Luke Duckworth is the team's tallest player at 6-4, although seniors Dylan Best and Camden Robbins and junior Eric Rodgers are also over 6-foot tall. Other seniors include Noah Barger, McGwire Taylor, Blaine Milner and Jesse Milner, along with junior Nick Easton.

"It's a totally new group but I'm very excited to see what they can do," McElravy said. "This group is very competitive. Not super tall, but athletic and they work together very well."

The Mules opened play at the Capital Classic and picked up a win over Salem but lost to Olney Richland County.

"This group has set a goal of winning another conference championship and competing for trophies in each of our other tourneys," McElravy said. "We would also like to be in the mix for a regional title at the end of the season."

Fairfield also plays in the tournaments at Eldorado and Carmi.

Hamilton County Foxes

Grady Lueke, who was an all-conference pick when Hamilton County went 11-6 in the spring, returns to the starting lineup for the Foxes.

Head coach Doug Miller also has a deep bench of players who all started at times last season.

That list includes Brady Thrane, Tyce Gordon, Layton Karcher, Austin Harrelson, Jaden York and Claven Lueke, who are all seniors, along with juniors Wyatt Hamson and Brier Eck.

"Depth is going to be a strength for us," Miller said. "Our expectations are to get better each day and for each player to do their very best."

The Foxes opened the season with a win over new conference member Flora, then knocked off Anna-Jonesboro on the first night of the Goreville Invitational.

"This is a fun, experienced, hard-working group of kids," Miller said. "They're fun to coach."

Edwards County Lions

Albion Edwards County has a new head coach in Kevin Schnicker and he inherits a team that won four games in the spring after it won just six games in the 2019-20 season.

The Lions have three experienced seniors in Kaden Cowling, Dylan Rhodes and Alex Calverley. Cowling stands 6-foot-3 and Rhodes is 6-2, while Calverley is listed at 5-10.

"We'll play hard every night," Schnicker said. "It's a good group of boys. They are very coachable and willing to learn."

The Lions opened with a home game against Grayville and rolled to a 71-37 victory. They also played in the Capital Classic last week and beat Bridgeport Red Hill, but lost to Mount Carmel, Olney Richland County and Salem.

"They're learning an all-new way to play," Schnicker said. "It will take time to put it all together."

Edwards County also plays in the Conrad Allen Tournament at Wayne City and is part of the Eldorado Holiday Tournament.

Flora Wolves

The newest team in the Black Diamond Conference is still trying to get established after just one win in the spring while battling quarantine issues. In the previous winter, the Wolves were 6-24.

"The past few years haven't been real good," said head coach Phil Leib. "We're hoping we can turn the corner and change that this year."

The Wolves already have three wins this season.

Flora has three returning starters, including 6-foot senior guard Cole Young and 6-3 senior forward Trenton Harrell, who both average around double figures in scoring. Also back is senior guard Holden Warren.

They're joined by junior Malachi Tolliver, a 6-3 forward, along with juniors Jacob Stanford and Ethan Durre. Sophomores Neil Young and Trevor Johnson are also in the varsity mix.

"We have some athletes who we hope will rebound and defend better than we have," Leib said. "We also have a couple of shooters who should help keep the defense honest on the perimeter."

Flora opened its season at home against Hamilton County and lost, 59-31, then went to Kaskaskian Classic in Carlyle and beat Farina South Central, host Carlyle and Hillsboro.

The Wolves also play in the Vandalia tournament during Christmas break.

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