New Life softball: Eagles one win away from state record
The New Life Academy softball team took one step closer to history.
After an impressive run of resounding victories in its first three section tournament games, the Eagles are just one win away from reaching eight consecutive state tournaments, which would tie the state record.
If it reached an eighth straight state tournament, New Life, which is ranked second in Class A, is 15-3 and was a perfect 8-0 in MCAA play, would tie Winona Cotter for the most consecutive state tournament appearances in state history.
"Our girls are growing in confidence and are very goal-oriented, so it should be another tough but exciting week for us," New Life Academy head coach Mick Ramey said.
A year ago, the New Life Academy softball team celebrated a seventh straight trip to the state tournament, beating Minneapolis Washburn 5-3 for the Section 4A championship.
Washburn, the No. 3 seed in this year's Section 4A tournament, provided last week's most anticipated matchup but the game itself was no contest. The top-seeded Eagles beat the Millers (16-5) on Thursday, May 23, at Bielenberg Sports Complex in a game shortened to five innings, because of the "10-run rule."
Having faced each other last season for the 4A section title, and with both schools returning all of their key players, it was figured to be a similar case again this year. Before an amped-up crowed and in a playoff atmosphere, the Eagles bats came alive quickly and they ended up with a 12-1 victory over Washburn, which is moving to Class AAA next year.
"We had some nerves to start the game, and I presume so did they," Ramey said. "I'm sure both teams had this game circled on their calendars since last June, and so we were excited to get it going and see how it went."
In the game, Washburn was able to get two runners on base in the top of the first inning and, with two outs, hit a deep line drive to center, which was caught by junior Chloe Westlund for the third out. The Eagles jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first inning with leadoff batter Westlund drawing a walk, a bunt single by junior Amanda Heidmann and back-to-back RBI hits by sophomore Malorie Giere and senior Nicole Johnson.
"That first inning was huge," Ramey said. "It settled us down and gave us some confidence."
In the second inning, the Eagles again scored four runs with a double by Westlund and three straight RBI hits from sophomore Valerie Hohol, Giere and Johnson. Then, after Hohol was settling in nicely on the mound and keeping Washburn to only one run (unearned) in four innings, the Eagles finished their offensive attack with yet another four-run inning in the fourth. This time around, it was with singles from Heidmann and Johnson, a triple from Hohol, and a resounding 2-run home run from Giere that sealed the game.
"It was awesome to see our leaders all take charge at the plate," Ramey said. "All of our first five hitters contributed mightily in the game and Giere's blast was one we'll remember for a long time.
"Hohol again pitched masterfully and we picked a really good time to play our best game of the season so far. And Westlund was huge for us in center field - her catch in the top of the first inning was terrific and she showed why she's as good as anyone there is defensively out there."
To reach the semifinals against Washburn, after a first-round bye, the Eagles started section play on a cool and wet Tuesday night in Brooklyn Center but their bats were hot nonetheless and NLA cruised to victories against Columbia Heights and Legacy Christian Academy by scores of 10-0 and 13-3, respectively.
Against Columbia Heights, Hohol led the hitting parade by going 3-for-4, including a 2-run home run in the fifth, the first round-tripper of her high school career. Johnson went 2-for-3 and Heidmann went 3-for-4 gave Hohol all the runs she needed to pick up the efficient victory on the mound. Hohol finished the game throwing 11 strikeouts.
The back end of the double-header went just as well for the Eagles by defeating conference foe Legacy 13-3. Legacy was able to hit a couple of home runs over the unusually short fences in Brooklyn Center, but the game was never in doubt as Hohol threw her second complete game of the night and had eight strikeouts. Many Eagles batters had great offensive games, including multiple hit games by Hohol, Johnson, Westlund, Giere, and eighth grader Kayla Binsfeld.
The Eagles' work is not done yet, however, as they will have to face Washburn again this week - on Tuesday, May 28, at Hamline University - after the Millers beat Mounds Park Academy 3-2 on Saturday. NLA will need one victory if it wants to return to Mankato for the state tournament.
"Washburn is a very, very good and powerful team," Ramey said. "Their pitcher is experienced and fast and they will come as us very hard again like they always do. We will need our "A" game again if we are to win the section title this year."