Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament is small town basketball at its best

Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament is small town basketball at its best

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Sesser's Eli Gunter slips past Marissa's Logan Jones on his way to the basket in the Red Devils' 57-54 win over Marissa-Coulterville in the championship game of the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament last December in Sesser. 

The 38th Annual Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament, one of the oldest boys' basketball holiday tournaments in the state, will take to the court the day after Christmas with a new team added to the 16-team field making the four-day tournament one of its most competitive in recent years.

“We think our tournament is one of the best small town tournaments in the state,” said Sesser-Valier coach Shane Garner. “If you look in postseason play, especially in 1A, there been produced with us, Woodlawn and Goreville, a lot of super-sectional teams. And the teams in our tournament has accumulated about seven state trophies since we went to the four-class bracket. If a 1A team succeeds in our tournament that’s a pretty good predictor of success in postseason play.”

The tournament opens with eight games Thursday starting at 9 a.m. The tournament continues with eight games on Friday starting at 9 a.m. and six games on Saturday starting at 10:30 a.m.

After taking Sunday off, the tournament concludes Monday with the consolation championship game at noon followed by the fifth place game at 1:30 p.m., the third place game at 3 p.m. and the championship game at 7 p.m.

Joining defending champion Sesser-Valier and former champion Goreville is Altamont, which is replacing Woodlawn this year.

“Goreville was the unanimous No. 1 seed,” Garner said. “They won their own post-Thanksgiving tournament which has some good solid 2A teams in it. Everybody is looking at them, but I think anybody in the top five has a pretty good chance.”

Altamont is the third seed after starting the season with a 5-0 record, led by guards Kaden Eirhart, a junior with 22 points a game, and Aiden Jahraus, a senior averaging 17.8 points a game. The Indians open against Thompsonville at 6:30 p.m.

“Altamont brings a very tough style of basketball,” Garner said. “They bring in a talent we haven’t seen and are going to be a great fit for our tournament.”

Goreville is the top seed after staring the season 9-0. Over that span the Blackcats averaged 75 points a game with an average winning margin of 27 points, with the highest being 46 and the lowest 10.

Goreville played West Frankfort Saturday in its last game before opening the tournament against Galatia at 1:30 p.m.

“Goreville returns a lot from last year,” Garner said. “They’ve got some solid pieces clearly by their scores so far.”

Christopher (7-1) is the second seed, with one loss in overtime to Woodlawn after winning its first six games. The Bearcats open at 3:30 p.m. against Century.

“Christopher returns almost everybody from last year,” Garner said. “They have a good solid senior in Bryce Pratt. Senior Grant Gordon moving back from Benton gives them a really solid figure in their starting rotation. They also have some really good young talent to go with them. They are very deserving of the two seed.”

Last year fourth seed Marissa-Coulterville (3-1) advanced to the tournament title game where Sesser-Valier prevailed, 57-54, to win its first title in 18 years. The Meteors open the tournament against Waltonville at 10:30 a.m.

“Marissa-Coulterville might have the single best player in the tournament — Sebastion Ivory-Greer, who was phenomenal last year,” Garner said. “He scored 38 points against us in the championship game.”

Cobden is the fifth seed and had gotten off to a great start with a 10-2 record. Cobden plays a game against Steeleville on Saturday before starting the tournament at 9 a.m. against Johnston City in the opening game.

“Cobden has two really, really nice players in junior Noah Franklin, a 6-5 guard, and senior Joe Brumleve, a 6-6 center, that gives them two tall players,” Garner said. “Brumleve plays down low and Franklin can step out. They are a nice combo to have.”

Sesser-Valier is the sixth seed. Two years ago Sesser-Valier and Goreville met in the title game with the Blackcats, who finished third at state that year, taking the title, 65-63.

The Red Devils opened the season with a 3-4 record after losing to Christopher in overtime in its last game before the tournament. Sesser-Valier opens with New Athens at 8 p.m. in the final game of opening day.

“We have some guys hurt, so we’re still piecing things together,” Garner said. “We return three starters and have just five players with playing experience.”

Last year, in addition to winning the holiday tournament, the Red Devils advanced to the super-sectional for the first time since Garner’s first season as head coach in 2014, when Sesser-Valier finished fourth at the state tournament.

“Fan support at our tournament has been very good,” Garner said. “We’ve seen some increase, especially on our championship night. We are one of the only 16-team tournaments that goes four days. The three-day tournaments like Eldorado and Pinckneyville will be over with, so we draw a lot of fans for our championship day.”

Seventh seed Odin (8-3) opens against Zeigler-Royalton at 5 p.m. and eighth seed Sparta (1-4) plays Red Bud at noon.

“Odin won its first regional (since a district title in 1971) and advanced to the sectional title game where they lost to the team that finished third at state,” Garner said. “Sparta playing a 2A schedule in the River-to-River Conference helps them.”

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