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Saxony boys basketball hopes for district title after falling in third-straight final

Saxony Lutheran senior guard John Hartmann returns one of the Crusaders all-district selections after leading the team in points per game (15.2) and 3-pointers (57). Photo by Jay Forness

For the third season in a row last winter, the Saxony Lutheran boys basketball team managed to reach the district championship game. While the Crusaders fell for the third-straight time in the contest, it’s something that could be culminating into a special 2023-24 campaign.

Saxony’s head coach Justin Callahan is entering his fifth season at Saxony, where he has combined for an overall coaching record of 56-48 (.538 winning percentage). The Crusaders have recently produced back-to-back 19-win campaigns, a vast improvement from Saxony’s two-win season in 2018-19 before Coach Callahan took over.

Now that Saxony has been the district runner-up the past three seasons, the team is ready to take home the first-place plaque. The Crusaders will try to do so with two returning all-district selections in seniors forward Luke Eggemeyer and guard John Hartmann.

Eggemeyer, who stands at 6-foot-7, enters his final year with Saxony coming off a junior campaign where he averaged a double-double with 14.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Luke missed a few games at the beginning of the season due to an injury, but he then helped the Crusaders rattle off 14-straight wins before falling in the district title game to Charleston.

“That streak started right about when Luke got back to 100%, so him having a full preseason is huge,” Coach Callahan said. “He’s grown another inch and is athletic — can dunk with ease. It hasn’t been a strength in the past, but he’s worked on his perimeter shot. He’s got the ability to block shots with his length and athleticism to be an intimidator on defense and in the paint. He’s also gotten stronger and finishes around the rim a lot better.”

While Eggemeyer was averaging a double-double inside for Saxony, Hartmann produced a team-high 15.2 points per game and was far and away the team’s top 3-point shooter with 57 makes from beyond the arc (33.3%). He was also one of the Crusaders top defenders with 1.8 steals per contest and distributed well, recording three assists per game.

“From start to finish with Luke being hurt, John was our most consistent player, and he hasn’t let up one bit as far as his work ethic during the offseason,” Coach Callahan said. “He’s constantly working to get better in the gym and the weight room… He became a green-light shooter last season, which means if we make one pass, you can shoot it.”

While these two are key pieces for Saxony this season, they are also the only two returning starters from last winter. However, there are a few players like juniors Owen Buchheit, Wes Kiehne, Austin Hunt and Jackson Wilson who come back with varsity experience. Coach Callahan will also rely heavily on senior Blake Gaebler, who is set to run the point guard position after sitting out last season.

“One pleasant surprise is Blake, and he played his basketball his first two years and decided to come back out this year,” Coach Callahan said. “So it’s not like he’s brand new to the system, but last year he wanted to focus more on baseball. Blake handles the ball well and sees the floor well, and he’s capable of shooting it well. I think he’ll score a little bit more [than our previous point guard].”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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