With the Class 2 District 3 Tournament set to begin this Friday at Chaffee, the Saxony Lutheran baseball team is more than ready to hopefully win what would be its first district championship since the 2019 season.
The Crusaders didn’t start off the year as they would’ve hoped by recording a .500 record through the first eight games, but since then they rattled off 10 wins in a row and earned the No. 2 seed for districts.
“In the first nine games, we hardly hit anything — we just weren’t hitting balls,” Saxony head coach Paul Sander said. “That put a lot of pressure on our pitchers, and it put a lot of pressure on the players themselves. I think they knew they were better, and I knew they were better.
“They just weren’t getting it done, but now we’ve hit the ball really well though all of these games. We’ve come up against some real nice pitching. Just about everybody we’ve played in our last 10 games, we’ve faced a team’s No. 1 pitcher.”
Offensively, Saxony Lutheran scored 105 runs during their 10-game winning streak for an average of 10.5 runs per game. Five Crusaders have scored 15 or more runs so far, while four have driven in at least 16.
One of those players for Saxony is first-year starter sophomore center fielder Brayden Moore, who has batted his way to hitting at the cleanup spot in the Crusaders lineup. Moore has recorded a team-high 23 runs batted in along with scoring 18 runs in his first full season of varsity action so far.
Along with that, Brayden is one of Saxony’s four players with a batting average above .300 at .327, as he’s also recorded 18 hits and a team-high six triples.
“We’ve got the fastest guy on the team in the four spot,” Coach Sander said. “We knew Moore was a good player, but he’s only a sophomore. We knew he was going to be a really good player for us — I just didn’t know how soon that was going to be. I guess I found out it was going to be this year.”
Batting one spot ahead of Moore in the Crusaders lineup at the three-hole is Saxony senior first baseman Aaron Eubanks, who will be playing college baseball at Missouri Valley next spring. Eubanks currently has a .375 batting average with a team-high 21 hits, while he’s also scored 15 runs and drove in 16 RBIs.
Coach Sander describes Eubanks as one of his team’s most-respected leader as he displays pure calmness while batting. Sander, who expects Eubanks will have a fine college career, also believes Aaron is one of the reasons why the Crusaders have been doing so well at the plate.
“Eubanks has completely turned it around and gotten on fire,” Coach Sander said. “He’s a good teammate and a good kid. As you see at the plate, he’s very calm and lets the ball get deep and turns on it quickly.
“Early in the year, it wasn’t clicking, but hitting is kind of contagious. A couple guys start hitting and everybody else just went off. You’re not going to keep a good hitter like him down the whole year, and he’s shown how good of a hitter he is.”
Eubanks is also one of Saxony’s top pitchers this season as he’s produced an overall record of 3-1 through three starts with 24 strikeouts and and a 2.17 earned run average.
The Crusaders ace this spring, though, has been in fact senior pitcher Drew Hahs, and he will also be playing college baseball like Eubanks next year. Hahs, who has signed with John Wood Community College, is 5-1 overall while being far and away Saxony’s leader in strikeouts with 62 Ks and has a 2.18 ERA.
Fielding the best ERA among the Crusaders pitchers that have started more than two games is junior Owen Tarry at 1.71. He has a record of 4-1 on the mound and has struck out 34 batters.
“I think out of Class 1, 2 and 3, our pitching is deeper than a lot of teams,” Coach Sander said. “Hahs has been a good No. 1, but we can go down to No. 6 on our team and still have a nice arm throwing. Owen Tarry has settled in at No. 2, and we didn’t know how much pitching we’d get out of Eubanks, but he’s done a nice job.
“We go down the list and Mason Landewee has had a few good starts. Lucas Koenig has had a couple really nice relief appearances, and David Weinhold has also had some great relief appearances. I’ve still have the freshman Cole Roth, who will throw an inning here and there.”
Moving back to the plate, Saxony’s top-two scorers have been seniors catcher Carson Birk and shortstop Jace Boland, who have each recorded a team-high 20 runs. Birk is also the team’s leader in batting average with a near .400 BA at .396, while he’s also produced 19 hits (team-high two home runs and six doubles) and 16 RBIs.
As for Boland, who will play soccer collegiately instead of baseball, has stolen the most bases for the Crusaders with eight and is currently batting a .255 average. With Jace being Saxony’s leadoff hitter, followed by Birk batting second and Moore cleanup, the majority of the Crusaders speed is in the top of the lineup.
“[Boland’s] speed is good at the top, and Birk’s speed is good at the top,” Coach Sander said. “Then Moore is just blazing fast, so we have three of our top-four hitters than run really, really well.”
Tarry has also been a bright spot at the plate outside of his pitching duties as he currently fields a .321 BA with 17 hits, 15 runs scored and 13 RBIs. Hahs is fourth in batting average for Saxony at .286 as he’s recorded 16 hits, two home runs, 19 RBIs and has scored 10 runs.
As for the district tournament, the Crusaders (15-5) face No. 7 Puxico (5-9) in the quarterfinals Friday with a meeting between either No. 2 St. Vincent (11-7) or No. 6 Bloomfield (6-11) in the semifinals on Saturday if Saxony should win.
Earning the top seed in Class 2 District 3 was tournament-host Chaffee (17-6), which defeated Saxony 4-1 back on April 14. Like the Crusaders, the Red Devils haven’t won a district championship since 2019 either.