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New Life Academy softball: Eagles reach eighth straight state tourney, tie state record

The New Life softball team celebrates after beating Minneapolis Washburn 2-0 in the Section 4A Championship game, qualifying for a state-record eighth straight state tournament.1 / 3
New Life starting pitcher Val Hohol delivers during the win over Washburn. Hohol through a complete-game shutout and went 2-for-2 in the win.2 / 3
The New Life softball team poses with the Section 4A championship trophy.3 / 3

They did it.

The New Life Academy softball team tied a state record by reaching an eighth consecutive state tournament, beating Minneapolis Washburn 2-0 in the Section 4A Championship game on Tuesday, May 28, at Hamline University.

"Last year wasn't really expected, but this year we set some goals and this was one of them," New Life head coach Mick Ramey said. "No. 8 was the goal."

With the eight straight state appearances, New Life ties Winona Cotter for the most in the history of Minnesota high school softball. Ramey, who joined the NLA softball team in 2003 and has been the head coach since 2006, has been around for each one.

Though it tied a state record, Ramey said he wasn't expecting any fireworks or other fanfare.

"We want to be humble about it," Ramey said. "We don't have great big celebrations. I don't want to say it's old hat, but it's expected when we get this far. I'm very happy about the way it ended."

Last week, New Life Academy - the top seed in Section 4A and the second-ranked team in all of Class A - beat third-seeded Minneapolis Washburn 12-1 in a long-anticipated section semifinal matchup. This time around however, with Washburn needing to beat New Life (16-3) twice to win the double-elimination tournament, the Millers put up much more of a fight.

In the Section 4A title game, Minneapolis Washburn (16-6) outhit New Life Academy 8-3, but the Eagles took advantage of Millers' miscues and got one big hit when they needed it in order to avoid the upset and celebrate the record-tying win.

"Even though we 10-runned them before, that meant nothing," New Life starting pitcher Val Hohol said. "Everyone was focused, everyone kept their cool, no one got nervous and it was great to see the girls do their jobs and get it done."

Hohol, a sophomore, through a complete game, allowing eight hits and a walk, striking out four. However, she got key outs when she needed them.

"Without the girls behind me I couldn't do any of it," Hohol said. "I have to have good defense behind me. I can't do it by myself. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Everyone did what they needed to do. I couldn't be more proud of the girls."

New Life Academy scored its first run of the game without a hit. New Life eighth grader Kayla Binsfeld earned a one-out walk and advanced to second base on a ground-out by senior Amanda Pastirik. A passed ball allowed Binsfeld to move to third base. Then, with two outs, sophomore Sydney Steele laid down a suicide-squeeze bunt that got Binsfeld caught in a run down. However, Binsfeld beat a throw home and the Eagles went up 1-0.

Neither team scored again until the bottom of the sixth inning. Hohol led off the sixth with a walk and was substituted for a courtesy runner, Stacia Butwin. After Butwin reached second base on another passed ball, sophomore Malorie Giere ripped a double into left-center field that drove her home and gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead - one it wouldn't relinquish.

"We were supposed to layoff the high pitches and I didn't, so I knew I had to hit it or else I'd be in trouble," Giere, the team's cleanup hitter, said. "I just want Val to be as comfortable as possible out there. Anything I can do to help her I'll try to do. That felt good."

Making history is nothing new to the New Life Academy softball program. The Eagles already rewrote the record books by winning a state-record four consecutive state championship titles between 2008 and 2011. Last year, in its quest for a fifth-straight state championship, the team finished in fourth place in the state.

Last year, New Life Academy beat Washburn 5-3 in the section final in order to win celebrate a seventh straight trip to the state tournament. At state, after beating Section 6A champion Sebeka 2-1 in the opening round, New Life Academy fell 2-0 to No. 1-ranked Cherry in the semifinals. Cherry, which fell to New Life in the 2011 state championship game, finished the year undefeated and as 2012 Class A state champions. After the emotional loss to Cherry, New Life suffered a letdown in the third-place game, falling to New Ulm Cathedral 9-2.

New Life Academy didn't lose any players from last year's team, however.

"I think we're better than we were last year," Giere, a team captain, said. "Our defense is better and we're hitting well one though nine. It's a big improvement from last year."

At this year's state tournament, New Life Academy will open against the Section 7A champion, which will either be the defending state champ in Cherry, which is 20-2 and ranked ninth in Class A, or Littlefork-Big Falls (18-4) on Thursday, June 6, at 9 a.m. in North Mankato.

"Our goal is to win our first game," Hohol said. "We need to focus on that game and work hard at practice. If we have a chance to win the state tournament, then it's an amazing gift that God has blessed us with."