Not many Class 3 teams in the state of Missouri have to contend with the size and athleticism Eldon was up against Tuesday night.

Not many Class 3 teams in the state of Missouri have to contend with the size and athleticism Eldon was up against Tuesday night.

The Mustangs hosted Father Tolton in the opening round of the Class 3 District 9 Tournament and those factors, along with the depth disparity, eventually took its toll as seventh-seeded Eldon fell to the No. 2 Trailblazers 80-49.

“We just wanted to come ut and play free and enjoy the game. We know there is a disadvantage,” Eldon coach Cory Casey said. “We don’t have a bench- they do, they have size- we don’t and they have ballhandlers- we don’t, but we have heart. I think those that have been around our program all year have seen that there has been a culture starting to change.”

Eldon, a team that had won just three games all year, was taking on a team that came into Tuesday night’s battle with 18 wins and a fourth place ranking in the latest Class 3 Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll. Eldon’s tallest player, junior Fisher Snelling, measures in at 6-foot-4 and only senior Logan Hall and junior Aidan Wells are the next tallest players at 6-foot-3. Meanwhile, Father Tolton has eight players on its roster at 6-foot-3 or taller including the 6-foot-8 Evens Appolon and 6-foot-10 Jevon Porter.

Despite the differential, Eldon mostly kept pace in the first half, trailing by just nine at the break before the Trailblazers eventually pulled away in the second. Hall fueled the offense early with a team-leading 11 points.

“We had them on their heels for a little bit and I think that’s what I talked to the boys about is there is no pressure on us. There is a lot of pressure on them and if it gets deep into the game they are going to start feeling it,” Casey noted. “I think you could see that a little bit. They were getting frustrated a little bit out there, too, and that is because I don’t think they thought we were going to pose any kind of threat whatsoever.”

Ultimately, the same issue the Mustangs have dealt with for most of the season came into play and that is depth. The fatigue made itself most present in the fourth.

“That happens to us a lot because of our depth, but they bought in and represent the town well, represent Eldon well and represent their school well,” the coach stated. “They showed themselves well tonight in how they played and the heart they have.”

Casey joked about how picking halves from different games would have resulted in a winning record this season and he was not the only one to notice the potential.

“We had a ref out there tonight tell one of our players, ‘You guys are the best three-win team I’ve ever seen’ and I just wish our guys could put four quarters together,” the coach said. “That has been our problem all year long. We hung with a lot of teams and just can’t finish... But the heart and character is there and when you have those things we can build off that.”

Hall finished with 15 points to lead Eldon in his final game as a Mustang while Wells added 12 points and fellow seniors Clayton Moore and Collin Tamm put up nine points each in their final games. Casey was quick to thank those veterans, noting the example they presented that they themselves did not exactly have when they were younger.

“Our seniors have really bought in and the record does not show that. If you would see our kids in practice and the attitudes from previous years and the difference then, they bought in,” the coach pointed out.

“They have been absolutely wonderful... Our younger guys can see what hard work is about. They (seniors) did not quit and we did not hardly have any bad practices,” Casey continued. “The attitude was great all the way through to yesterday’s last practice. The younger boys see that and I want to thank those seniors tremendously for setting that example because it makes it a lot easier to change the culture when your seniors do that.”

Eldon finishes the year 3-21, but if the Mustangs are to turn things around, Casey will point to this senior group as where it started.

“They changed it this year. I told them two or three years from now when we are winning basketball games and it turns into a winning program, which it will, I am going to definitely make it known they were the ones who started it,” he said. “They started the attitude shift.”

Well, the work towards making that happen will get underway in the form of lifting weights, gym sessions and camps. Casey also plans to conduct exit interviews with player in the near future.

“We’ll tell every player coming back what we expect of them, what we see their role to be and what we want them to work on,” the coach stated. “Those that want to buy in will do it and we’ll see what happens.”