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Saxony girls basketball wins first district championship in four years

The Saxony Lutheran girls basketball team poses with the Class 3 District 2 Championship plaque after beating Scott City 60-53 in the title game on Friday night at Bloomfield. Photo by Jay Forness

Last Friday, the Saxony Lutheran girls basketball team managed to do what no other Crusaders team has done since the 2019-20 season — win a district championship.

One could argue the main reason why no Saxony team has won districts since then is because of MSHSAA’s success factor, which moved the Crusaders up to Class 4 and even Class 5 over the span.

Now, though, Saxony is back in the classification it should be — Class 3 — where it once won eight consecutive district titles and made two state final four appearances.

“I was gifted a really, really good group of upperclassmen and it’s been a process,” Saxony’s first-year head coach Chris Crawford said. “We’ve had some growing pains, but to be able to win a district title with this group means a lot. I’ve watched them over the years put in so much hard work — to see it finally pay off for them was pretty special.”

To win the Class 3 District 2 Championship, the No. 1 seeded Crusaders (18-8) held off No. 2 Scott City (18-9) by just seven points at 60-53. Saxony scored eight points at the free-throw line alone in the fourth quarter off 13 attempts as 6-foot-1 senior Evie Caruso went 6-for-6 at the charity stripe.

“I thought we played some of our worst basketball this past week down at Bloomfield,” Coach Crawford said. “Bloomfield has a historic and fantastic court — it’s one of my favorite places to coach, but the lines are a little bit different than what we’re used to playing in.

“Our shooting was thrown off a little bit, so we had to figure out how to play without making a lot of shots. Scott City had a great game plan in the first half and played super hard, but we didn’t make any shots and played horribly on defense. We just couldn’t get it going for whatever reason.

“Once we settled down a little bit and got to playing better defense and hitting shots, that’s when we kind of took off. We made some baskets in transition, and when we do that, we’re not very easy to beat when we’re clicking like that.”

Despite not playing most of the first half due to being in foul trouble herself, Caruso still managed to record a double-double with 19 points and 16 rebounds in the title game. Scott City’s opposing post player 5-11 junior Lilyan Landis recorded a game-high 24 points.

“Landis is a good player, and she didn’t get into foul trouble until Evie was actually in the game, and I think that says something,” Coach Crawford said. “Landis gave Evie business on her end, but when Evie is in there it makes us a completely different team because it opens everything up for us.”

When Caruso was on the bench, one of Saxony’s star soccer players for Coach Crawford in the spring 5-9 senior forward Maci Hollis stepped up big and defended Landis inside. While she only scored four points, Hollis stuffed the stat sheet and came up with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Another senior who continued to step up big for the Crusaders was none other than their leading scorer in 5-7 guard Becca Johnson. Becca, who will play college basketball at Webster, paced Caruso in points with 14.

Fellow 5-7 senior guard Annie Adams shot well also as she knocked down not one but two 3-pointers in the first half when the Crusaders were without Caruso.

“Our upperclassmen have been huge for us — they all stepped up in certain times when we needed them to,” Coach Crawford said. “Becca hit two shots down the stretch that were kind of daggers for Scott City’s hopes. … Sam Hope came in and played some minutes for Evie to give us another post player. Our senior class was enormous for us down the stretch.”

Two juniors that have been key all season for Coach Crawford and were pivotal to winning Saxony’s girls basketball program winning another district championship were guards Abby Haley and Camille Richey.

Haley tied Johnson for the second-most points with 14, while she also registered four rebounds and three steals. Richey tied for the most assists with Hollis at three, while she also had a steal and two rebounds.

“They make a phenomenal backcourt — you can’t really look at their statistics and get the impact they have on the game,” Coach Crawford said. “They’re both incredible defensively. Neither of them love to shoot or score, but we need them to at times.

“Camille is really able to get our offense running and to calm down when we’re not doing well. Haley is just a pest on defense — she’s probably the best defender in our area one-on-one. She’s just so fast.”

Looking ahead, Saxony hopes to make the Class 3 Final Four for the first time since 2016 when the Crusaders made it to the state championship game. According to Coach Crawford, Saxony has the pieces it needs to make state, but it also requires a little bit of luck to get there.

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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