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New Life senior John Horner fires in a pitch during the Eagles 8-2 win over Springfield in the state quarterfinals on Thursday at Chaska Athletic Park. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)

New Life pushes into state semifinal

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You’ll have to excuse New Life senior John Horner if you’re standing to his right and he doesn’t notice you.

“It’s a little blurry sometimes,” he said.

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Horner suffered a severe bruise on his right cheek during New Life’s sectional final win over Heritage Academy last week when he fouled a ball off of his face, leaving his cheek swollen to the size of a baseball.

But it was his eye suffering the consequences a week later. Horner’s right eye was blood-shot and badly bruised on Thursday during the Eagles state quarterfinal matchup against Springfield.

Still, that didn’t stop Horner from taking the mound, and it certainly didn’t stop him from dominating.

Horner tossed a complete game, allowing just two runs, none earned, as No. 4 New Life beat No. 5 Springfield 8-2 on Thursday at Chaska Athletic Park.

“He’s a beast,” senior Alex Busch said. “He can always throw, even with one eye.”

To Eagles coach Dave Darr, it was just another example of Horner’s unquestionable character.

“I called him the other day after he got checked out at the doctor and I just wanted to tell him how proud I was,” Darr said. “Some kids, and rightfully so, would say ‘I can’t go.’ You can’t see, youre in pain.”

Not Horner.

Still, despite Horner’s heroics, New Life trailed 2-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning. That’s when the bats exploded.

Busch’s three-run double highlighted a four-run third inning from the Eagles that broke open the game.

It sparked a common theme for New Life this year -- hang around long enough, and the bats will come through.

“We’re a good fastball hitting team,” Horner said. “In the beginning of the year we couldn’t get outside and we just hit, and hit, and hit in practice.”

The worked showed on Thursday, as the Eagles amassed eight runs on 12 hits.

For Horner, the offensive production made it easier to perform on the mound.

“It’s so nice,” he said. “Coming up the last couple of innings when we’re up by four or six, it’s alright to give up a run, we’ve got a big lead.”

New Life’s win sets up a state semifinal matchup with the No. 1 seed and defending Class A champ BOLD on Friday at noon, once again in Chaska.

The Eagles will head in as the undoubted underdog.

“BOLD will be the best team we’re going to face,” Darr said. “They’re the defending champions, and rightfully so.”

But with an offense like the one New Life possesses, it’s hard to count the Eagles out.

“As long as we score more runs than them, we’ll win,” Horner said. “So that’s the mindset coming in.”

And it’ll be John Horner’s younger brother, junior Sam Horner, on the mound for New Life on Friday. He’ll attempt to hold BOLD’s potent offense, which tallied 14 hits in an 8-0 win over Red Lake County in the opener on Thursday, down as the Eagles go for the upset.

Sam Horner is no stranger to the limelight. He was the one who sent the Eagles to state when he hit a walk-off double in the section final.

“It’s fun because Sam always tries to one-up [John],” Darr said.

For the Eagles to have a shot on Friday, he might have to. Because while New Life was happy with earning the first state tournament win in school history on Thursday, the Eagles want to make an appearance in the state final on Saturday at Target Field.

“Our team worked hard all year for this,” John Horner said, “and we’ve got two more.”

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