What do you give a 12-0 team with the No. 3 seed in the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament and the No. 8 ranking in the Class 1A poll?
How about its second-best player back in action?
That’s the scenario Thompsonville coach Pete Gordon looks at for his team’s opener Wednesday with Zeigler-Royalton at 3:30 p.m. Not only are his Tigers unbeaten and rolling through everyone they play, they’re also about to get deeper and better.
Gordon is hopeful that 6-5 senior Reed Raubach, a proven 3-point threat who adds more versatility to the lineup, will return after missing multiple games with a hamstring injury.
“He just causes teams fits in terms of matchups,” Gordon said. “He’s probably our best 3-point shooter. Right now, he’s on target to return for the tournament.”
Whether Raubach plays or not, Thompsonville brings one of the area’s best stories to Sesser-Valier. After years of struggling, the Tigers broke out last year with an 18-10 mark and a Greater Egyptian Tournament championship.
Much was expected of Thompsonville before the season. It was picked as the GEC favorite. It has not disappointed, winning the Christopher Turkey Tournament and scoring emphatic road wins over Goreville and Elverado.
In doing all that, the Tigers have established a new ceiling in the minds of some, going from a little engine that might into a little engine with enough horsepower to perhaps play basketball in March.
Few teams on this level in the area offer the kind of skill and experience that Thompsonville possesses. It has shooters, a post presence with 6-7 Anthony Darge and the savvy to know when to play fast and when to slow things down.
This tournament gives them another opportunity to further shape a narrative turning in their favor.
“We like this tournament and we like our draw,” Gordon said. “We are playing Z-R in the first game and then potentially, we have a game with Goreville. Not that I think those are cupcake wins, but I like the familiarity we have with both teams since we’ve already played them. Now after that, watch out.”
That’s because if the Tigers reach the semifinals, they might have to beat Sesser-Valier on its floor. And based on Thursday night’s 65-62 win over 9-4 Gallatin County, Goreville has the ability to make that a pretty big if.
The Blackcats, which graduated every starter from a team that finished fourth in Class 1A in March, have taken a few lumps in the season’s first month. Thompsonville applied a few of them on Dec. 11 with a 61-44 thumping.
But Goreville is the tournament’s defending champion. Its young players, such as freshman Briley Dunn, are coming along. And Tripp says his team remembers how sweet it felt to win last December at S-V.
“My sophomore, junior and senior year when I played, we won, and that was a great feeling,” he said. “But when I won as a coach last year, to see my kids enjoy what I got to enjoy, was just great. We hadn’t won it in 17 years and we had been in the title game a few times.
“These kids got a taste of it and it keeps them striving for more. This is a great 1A tournament with a couple of 2A teams sprinkled in. It’s a fun atmosphere, and if you can get to that final night, it’s just incredible.”
The championship game is set for a 7 p.m. start Saturday.