Crying uncle

In just its second year of varsity basketball, Father Tolton is in the state quarterfinals.

That's the good news.

Here's the bad news for the rest of the state --- there are no seniors on the roster.

Here's the worse news --- the Trailblazers' best player is a freshman.

It gets even worse, Missouri --- the school's second-best player, perhaps, isn't even on this year's varsity roster. Why? He's in eighth grade.

At the risk of sounding quite corny, Father Tolton may make the rest of the state cry uncle for many years to come.

"It's been great," Tolton coach Tyler Clark said. "My experience is you win in the playoffs with seniors, but we don't have a single senior in our program. So it's exciting to have these young guys lead and the blaze the trail, if you will."

Blaze the trail. Clever.

"That's what we talk about in our school," Clark continued. "We have no seniors above them to teach them how to lead, so we've been learning on the fly.

"We've had some adversity and we played a really tough schedule, and we feel like it's prepared us for this moment."

The next moment is Saturday, as the Trailblazers (20-7) prepare for second-ranked Canton (26-1) in the Class 2 quarterfinals at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at Moberly Area Community College.

More on that game to come.

Father Tolton is in just its third year of existence, but is already becoming an athletic force. They had two state wrestling champions last month, sophomore Will Tindal and junior Jaydin Clayton.

Clayton is now a three-time state champion, and he's an eye-popping 105-0 in his career. Barring something unforeseen, he will become just the second four-time, undefeated state champion in state history.

Now, the basketball team is one step away from the Final Four. Why is this happening, so much success, so quickly?

"Because the fabric of our school, the identity of our school, is built around solid values, so it's attractive to a lot of families," Clark said. "So a lot of talented people are going to want to be a part of that.

"The dynamics of Columbia schools are changing, too ... we've benefited from that."

The Trailblazers advanced to the Elite Eight with a 69-49 win over Linn on Wednesday night. Michael Porter led the charge with an amazing night --- 29 points and 19 rebounds.

But in reality, this wasn't all that amazing, but more of an average night for Porter, at least scoring-wise.

He's averaging 29 points and 10 rebounds. And he's a freshman.

"High school basketball is a big jump from eighth-grade basketball," Clark said. "He's played against a lot of talented players in AAU events, but high school basketball is different.

"But his offensive skill-set and some of the things he can do are off the charts. And he's getting better daily. He's a great kid, wanting to learn, and he's a great teammate."

The 6-6 Porter isn't one of the best players in Central Missouri, he's not one of the best players in Missouri --- he's one of the best in the nation.

He's ranked the third-best player, nationally, in this freshman class. And oh by the way, his GPA is 4.0.

"He comes from a very faith-based family, he's very focused on his faith and very focused on his academics," said Clark, 33, who led New Bloomfield to the Final Four in 2011.

"He's a freshman in high school, he's not perfect. But he has exceeded my expectations, both on and off the court, maturity-wise and learning-wise. And he just keeps growing."

Porter has already broken the single-season freshman scoring record in Missouri with 773 points. The old mark was 733 set by Pembroke Hill's Jaron Rush (remember him?) in the 1994-95 season.

"That," Clark said, "is pretty good company to be in."

Porter is projected to grow to 6-9 or 6-10, Clark said. But his younger brother --- younger, not little brother --- is projected to be 7-feet tall.

Currently, Jontay Porter is 6-6 and in eighth grade.

"The future is really exciting," Clark said, in what may be the understatement of the year.

But first, the present.

Porter is not alone in this drive to the quarterfinals, as 6-6 junior Josh Boyer is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds. Boyer was an all-district player last season, when the Trailblazers went 11-13 in their first varsity season.

"Josh is a really special player for us," Clark said. "He plays at a high level."

Brennan Church, a 6-1 junior and son of former Missouri Tiger Greg Church, is averaging nine points and three rebounds. In the last year, he's grown four inches, inching closer to his dad's 6-7 frame.

"He's a late bloomer," Clark said. "He's still growing, he's still changing, and he can play a lot of different positions."

The Trailblazers will need the best effort from all of the above, and everyone else, when they face Canton.

The Tigers are 53-3 in the last two seasons, losing last year in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Salisbury. They have three players --- Brandon Berhorst, Tyler Niemann and Gabe McKenzie --- who have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers.

They'll enter Saturday's bout riding a 23-game winning streak.

"They're a really special team, they're a season-laden squad," Clark said. "They do a great job, they know their identity. We just have to be us, play good team ball and get stops.

"Our players have really bought into what we're trying to do. We've really improved on defense, we've learned to play together. We try to build our team around postseason success, that's our goal every year.

"We're reaping the benefits of that now."

Now, and by all appearances, many years to come.

Here are Saturday's quarterfinal pairings involving area teams, including state ranking (if ranked).


Class 3

No. 1 Eugene (26-1) vs. No. 2 Cardinal Ritter (23-5) at Moberly, 7:45 p.m.

Class 2

No. 1 Sacred Heart (28-0) vs. West Platte (27-1) at Independence, 2 p.m.
Father Tolton (20-7) vs. No. 2 Canton (26-1) at Moberly, 1:45 p.m.
No. 5 Iberia (27-1) vs. No. 8 Crane (26-1) at Springfield, 1:45 p.m.

Class 1

Pilot Grove (24-5) vs. No. 8 Macks Creek (23-5) at Clinton, 2:45 p.m.
Community (19-6) vs. No. 3 Meadville (23-3) at Kirksville, 2:45 p.m.


Class 3

No. 2 Hermann (26-1) vs. No. 3 Palmyra (27-2) at Moberly, 6 p.m.
Fatima (23-5) vs. No. 6 Ash Grove (26-4) at Springfield, 6 p.m.

Class 2

No. 5 New Franklin (27-1) vs. Knox County (25-4) at Moberly, noon