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Park holds off visiting New Life Academy

AJ Morrison of Park drives to the basket against the defense of Tate Hullett of New Life Academy in the first half Friday. Photo by John Molene1 / 5
Charlie Gorres of the Wolfpack finds the inside going tough as he tries to get to the basket in the first half against New Life Academy. Photo by John Molene2 / 5
New Life Academy senior center Drew Wynia goes hard to the basket in the second half. Wynia scored 20 points to lead the Eagles Friday. Photo by John Molene3 / 5
Park's Marshaun Cambell takes the ball away from New Life's Eli Gorter as Gorter tries to go up for a basket in the second half Friday in Cottage Grove. Photo by John Molene4 / 5
New Life Academy guard Tate Hullett brings the ball up court under pressure from Park's Cole in Herder the second half. Photo by John Molene5 / 5

For the first eight minutes of the game, the question was if New Life Academy would score.

With six minutes to play the question was whether New Life could hang on for the win.

And in what turned out to be a game of wild swings, host Park rallied to escape the visiting Eagles by a 56-49 count in a non-conference boys basketball matchup Friday, Dec. 15.

Park junior guard Domenik Block and junior forward Charlie Gorres made clutch plays down the stretch to lift the Wolfpack to the hard-fought win. Block scored 20 points, many of them on daring drives to the basket, while Gorres added 11.

"We beat them down the court pretty well," Block said. "And I think we fed off our energy a little bit more than they did. Sometimes they got down on themselves a little bit. We tried to take advantage of that and sometimes they couldn't answer for it, especially when we went on that 11-0 run."

Park broke out to an 11-0 lead to open the game, but by halftime, the Wolfpack lead was down to 21-19.

"To be down 11-nothing to start that game, shots weren't falling, and then to come back, to really fight back and take the lead at times before halftime, that's our senior leadership, " New Life coach Kory Kiekhoefer said. "We have fantastic seniors that believe in each other, that believe in the team, they believe in our program and what we're about. So that's the difference for us right there."

New Life Academy caught Park at 26-26 and 29-29, then passed the hosts behind the inspired play of senior center Drew Wynia. Wynia muscled his way inside for a variety of big-time baskets, eventually leading the Eagles with 20 points.

The Eagles grabbed a short-lived 44-43 lead with 4:09 remaining.

That's when the Wolfpack regained control. Gorres made two free throws for a 47-44 Park lead and then Block made a 3-point play the old-fashioned way for a 50-44 advantage with 1:28 remaining.

"Before every single game and at halftime, coach mentions a thing we say called dog mentality, and basically having that dog mentality is that fearless effort," Block said. "And I always think of that when I go to the rim. It doesn't matter what team we're playing"

New Life's Tate Hullett made a three at the other end to cut the lead to 50-47, but that was as close as the Eagles could manage.

"They kept fighting," said Park coach Mike Weah of the Wolfpack. "They kept fighting. Things got a little difficult in the second half. Late in the second half, we were down, and they just kept fighting, and they pulled it out.

"We pride ourselves on playing the last five minutes of the game," added Weah. "The last five minutes we go after it."

Block made another drive, and free throw for a 54-47 edge and that was more than enough for the Wolfpack to hang on.

"They had some big boys in the middle," said Gorres, who got banged around early and often by a rugged New Life front line. "I kept on driving, got hit a couple of times. It felt pretty hard."

Park outscored the visitors 11-5 in the last three and a half minutes.

"During practice, we built this bond where we just got to keep on going," Gorres added. "And we've worked really hard in practice so that last 10 minutes of the game we can outwork anybody, so that's what we did. We just outworked them. We just hustled and came out with the W."

Park improved to 3-1.

New Life slipped to 2-2 on the season.

Hullett and Zach Thor added eight points each for the Eagles.

Park opens Suburban East Conference play at a struggling Stillwater (1-6) Tuesday, Dec. 19.

New Life is idle until hosting St. Paul Washington (2-2) in non-conference action Thursday, Dec. 21.

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