New Life Academy softball: Eagles win historic fourth straight state titleNew Life became the first softball team in Minnesota history to win four consecutive state championships with an 8-2 win over Cherry/Cotton in the Class A championship game on Friday, June 10, at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
The New Life Academy softball team now owns a piece of history.
The Eagles became the first softball team in Minnesota history to win four consecutive state championships with an 8-2 win over Cherry/Cotton in the Class A championship game on Friday, June 10, at Caswell Park in North Mankato.
New Life head coach Mick Ramey said he and his coaching staff have been mapping out this season since December and that winning the fourth-straight state championship felt “very surreal.”
“This is going to put our legacy at New Life in the books,” Ramey said. “There may other teams that duplicate it, but I don’t know if there will be. It’s so tough to do. I’ve talked to so many coaches about it. It’s really hard to repeat. There is so much pressure.
I never really wanted to talk about it, but it was the elephant in the room. Today, we got up and said it was just one more game. We took it pitch by pitch and inning by inning and one step at a time and it worked.”
Senior captains Rebekah Schmidt and Katie Stodolka have been on all four of the Eagles’ state championship teams.
“It’s been crazy,” said Stodolka, the Eagles’ cleanup hitter this year. “It’s been really fun to see how the team changes and grows. Winning the state championship for the fourth time is just incredible. It’s just kind of unreal.”
Schmidt, the team’s ace pitcher the last two season, said winning the fourth title felt “great.”
“I just love the atmosphere with everyone around and all of our fans supporting us,” Schmidt said. “We work so hard for this — there are so many practices and scrimmages. We just wanted to go pitch by pitch and game by game. Everyone contributed.”
In the win, No. 4-ranked New Life Academy (24-4) expanded on its 3-2 lead with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, making it a 6-2 game, which was more than enough for the Eagles and Schmidt. Schmidt picked up the win, going the distance, while allowing four hits and striking out 10. It was Schmidt’s 14th shutout of the year.
Stodolka had the big hit in the critical fourth inning — a two RBI double that scored fellow classmate Lauren St. John and eighth-grader Sydney Steele, who was pinch-running for Schmidt. The double gave the Eagles a 6-2 lead and provided the team a sigh of relief.
“I was so excited,” Stodolka said. “It felt so good off the bat. I knew that one was going to go somewhere. It helped keep momentum going and it was just amazing girls got to score on that one.”
Just before the key hit, Stodolka stepped out of the batter’s box, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I tend to tense up and get a little bit panicked sometimes,” she said. “When that happens, I just need to step back and take a deep breath and tell myself that whatever happens, happens. I had to let God take control of it. I had to give it to Him. I knew I worked so hard and that’s all I can do.”
Ramey said he knew Stodolka would come through.
“She’s really been hitting the ball well,” he said. “She’s been stroking it all year. She is definitely one of the top players in the state and she’ll get to show that in the All-Star Series one more time and say kind of a last farewell to girls she’s played with 10 or 12 years.”
Stodolka led the way for the Eagles at the plate, going 3-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored in the win. In addition, Schmidt drew three walks and had one run scored, freshman Amanda Heidmann was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored and senior shortstop Lauren St. John scored two runs.
New Life jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom half of the first inning against Section 7A champion and third-ranked Cherry/Cotton (26-2).
Heidmann started the run with a one-out single, followed by a Schmidt single. Stodolka then rapped a double to score Heidmann, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead. A sacrifice fly by eighth grader Valerie Hohol then drove in Steele and an error on the throw home allowed Stodolka to sneak home for a 3-0 Eagles’ lead.
Cherry/Cotton rebounded with two runs in the top of the second inning to cut the Eagles’ advantage to 3-2. However, NLA would be silenced long — scoring three runs in the fourth inning and tacking on two runs in the sixth inning while Schmidt kept the Tigers at bay for the remainder of the championship contest.
“She is so calm,” Ramey said of Schmidt. “She says ‘I got this.’ There’s been 10-12 situations this year where we need an out and she shut them down. She gives the team so much confidence. But, one or two runs against these teams is never enough. I’ve watched (Cherry/Cotton) before and was worried about them, they’re a very good team. But, Becca was just that much better today.”
Fourth title No. 2 on Ramey’s list/b>
2011 was NLA’s sixth straight state tournament appearance. The Eagles competed in their first-ever state tournament in 2006 and were Class A runner-ups in 2007.
New Life won its third-straight Class A state championship with a 2-0 defeat of Barnum in last year’s final. Last year, Schmidt tied a state tournament record with three consecutive shutouts in last year’s tournament. Among the pitchers Schmidt tied in the record book was sister Danielle, who threw three straight shutouts in helping New Life to its first state title in 2008. Prior to New Life, New Ulm Cathedral was the last team to win three-straight championships — in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
“It was a lot of fun,” Ramey said. “This is probably going to be No. 2 on the list. The first one, you can’t duplicate it. The second one, we returned a lot of people an it was kind of expected. But these last two have been tough, especially with all the hype. We had our backs against the ropes a couple of times, but these girls came through.”
Ramey said the Eagles’ first loss of the year — New Life’s first conference loss in six years, 5-4 to Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity way back on April 12 — helped spur New Life for the rest of the season.
“That gave us a real boost and taught us a lesson,” Ramey said. “It kind of made the girls realize they have to work hard every game and cannot take a day off or take a team lightly. That was a blessing in disguise.”
After the loss, New Life outscored its opponents 90-6 in nine straight wins, before finally losing again.
The Eagles earned a trip to the state final with a pair of wins on Thursday, June 9. The Eagles handed ninth-ranked Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg its first loss of the season, beating the Fighting Saints, 3-2, in the semifinals on Thursday afternoon after drubbing previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Osakis 13-0 in the state tournament opener on Thursday morning.
In the win over Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (22-1), eight Eagles compiled 11 hits and Schmidt threw a complete game, one-hitter to earn the win. Schmidt allowed only one earned run and struck out 13. It was the first run she allowed in her past four state tournament appearances.
“Obviously I love the shutouts, but a win is a win,” Schmidt said. “My defense behind me came through. When we had runners on we got outs.”
New Life’s Chloe Westlund — a pinch runner — scored the go-ahead run from second base, breaking a 2-2 tie in the top of the sixth on an error.
At the plate, Schmidt went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Stodolka was 2-for-3, Hohol was 2-for-4 and Heidmann had an RBI.
In the quarterfinal win over Osakis (23-1), New Life used a three-run third inning and a six-run fifth inning to earn a 13-0 victory over the Silverstreaks.
Seven different Eagles recorded hits in the win, led by senior shortstop Lauren St. John who went 4-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI. Additionally, Hohol was 2-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Schmidt, who will be attending Div. I Drake on a softball scholarship next year, went the distance to earn the win, scattering two hits while striking out 11.
New Life must now say good-bye to five seniors — Schmidt, Stodolka, St. John, outfielder Lauren Anders and catcher Natalie Schad.
“It is a little bittersweet,” Schmidt said. “I’m really looking forward to summer and college, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of this. Everyone worked so hard and it paid off. I love this game and this team. I’m going to miss them.”