Seniors lead No. 5 basketball to win over powerhouse Fr. Tolton in season opener; high hopes for season

The basketball team tipped off its season last Friday with a 57-53 win against Father Tolton out of Columbia, Mo., and followed this early action with a tight 50-46 loss against Cardinal Ritter on Tuesday. 

Senior Nick Kramer sinks a basket against Cardinal Ritter. Photo: Nathan Rich.

The Jr. Bills have high hopes for this season, the culmination of several seniors’ high school careers. Seniors Nick Kramer, Luke Johnston, Jaden McClain, and Kevin Hogan have been on the varsity roster since they were freshman, but have had little consistent success. The team has a combined record of 25-45 in the past three seasons, and this year they will look to break the .500 mark for the first time since 2016. 

This season brings higher hopes for the Billikens, as SLUH comes in at No. 5 in the Large School St. Louis area rankings. 

They will be led by St. Louis University commit Kramer, who averaged a team-leading 19.2 points per game, a 62.9 percent field goal percentage, 6.7 rebounds per game, and 1.18 blocks per game last season. Kramer will look to build off of these numbers and lead the team on and off the court. 

“I’m just going to try to be the best player and teammate I can be,” Kramer said. “If I can bring energy and focus everyday to practice, then the young guys will follow.”

The Jr. Billikens will roster 15 players this season, the most since 2018. They will be led by seniors Kramer, McClain, Johnston, and Hogan, with more leadership from seniors Nick Witcher, Jack Christanell, and Charlie Stewart. 

Junior guard AJ Walker Jr. and junior forward Zach Ortwerth will be big contributors this season, and the roster will be further bolstered by juniors Cal Kreuter, Dwayne Chatman, Cayman Butler, and Trey Phillips III, along with sophomores Charlie Isom-McCall and Jalen Jones. 

Behind this deep roster, the Jr. Bills started the season on the right foot, defeating a talented Father Tolton team 57-53 in the Cross Conference Challenge. 

Tolton made the State Semifinals last season, and touts an impressive record of 143-42 over the last seven seasons. The Blazers’ top player, Jevon Porter—a 6-foot-11 forward committed to Pepperdine University who is the younger brother of NBA standout Michael Porter Jr.—dazzled in the Jr. Bills’ opener, but his efforts weren’t enough to carry his team to victory. 

SLUH was led by Walker, who stood out with 21 points, and Ortwerth who added another 11. 

The Jr. Bills were able to subdue Father Tolton’s offensive attack and held them 13 points below their season average en route to an opening win. 

The Jr. Billikens faced another tough opponent in Cardinal Ritter for the second contest of the season, but unfortunately could not come out on top. 

SLUH played a tight game with Ritter, the No. 3 Small Schools team in the St. Louis area. The game was tied late, but foul trouble and an inability to make critical shots deterred the Bills and they dropped the game 50-46. 

With 25, Kramer scored more than half the team’s points, but his impressive efforts were not enough to catapult the Jr. Billikens back into the win column for the second straight game. Despite the loss, the team’s spirits are still high, though. 

“I’m happy with our start to the season,” Kramer said. “All we can really ask for at the beginning of the season is for everyone to play hard and we have. By mid season, everyone will be caught up and they’ll be making shots.” 

The Jr. Bills are in the midst of a ten day hiatus before they travel to Kansas City, where they will play in the Blue Springs Tournament. SLUH begins tournament play on Dec. 9 at 8:30 p.m. against Rockhurst in the first round. 

The Jr. Bills will open up conference play on Dec. 17 against rival CBC, but the team has higher aspirations for this season than just regular season play. 

“District champs, then Final Four,” Kramer said, when reflecting upon the outlook of the season. “We’ve got a very winnable district and we are the best team in it. Then it’s one game and we’re in the Final Four.”

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