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New Life upsets defending state champ, moves into state final

New Life junior Sam Horner tosses a pitch during the Eagles 3-2 win over BOLD in a state semifinal at Chaska Athletic Park Friday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)1 / 4
New Life senior Matt Palkovich fields a ground ball during the Eagles 3-2 win over BOLD in a state semifinal at Chaska Athletic Park Friday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)2 / 4
New Life senior Alex Busch hits a ground ball during the Eagles 3-2 win over BOLD in a state semifinal at Chaska Athletic Park Friday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)3 / 4
New Life seniors John Horner (right) and Sam Mazon (left) bump fists after Mazon laid down a sacrifice bunt during the Eagles 3-2 win over BOLD in a state semifinal at Chaska Athletic Park Friday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)4 / 4

New Life junior Sam Horner didn’t make any bones about it -- he was nervous.

“You’re supposed to be real confident,” he said. “But that was hard to do leading up to this game.”

Horner watched on Thursday as BOLD practiced. He saw the big bodies. He witness BOLD accumulate 14 hits en route to scoring eight runs. He knew the Warriors were the defending state champs.

“I’m just thinking ‘man, if they get a hold of me, they’re going to be hitting all day,’” he said.

So he made sure they didn’t.

Horner tossed eight innings, allowing just two hits and zero earned runs as he propelled New Life past the No. 1 seed via a 3-2 eight-inning victory on Friday at Chaska Athletic Park.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Horner said. “I think God directed my balls today. Somehow I was able to keep the ball on the outer half of the plate pretty much all day, which is something I usually can’t do. I’m more like ‘please be a strike’ and just throw it in, but somehow I was able to keep it right on the outer corner or just off a little bit. ... Mostly I just kept locating well is what did it for me today.”

New Life grabbed an early 1-0 lead when sophomore Simon Killeen’s RBI groundout plated Horner in the top of the first.

That looked like it was going to be all Horner needed.

The junior held BOLD’s offense hitless through four innings. And while the no-hitter is widely considered a superstitious event in baseball, it was definitely on Horner’s mind.

“I was actually thinking it after three,” he said. “You’re not supposed to do that, but I come in in the third inning, I look at the scoreboard and I was like ‘oh, I see a little zero under the hit column.’”

The Warriors broke up the no-hit bid with a looping single to right in the fifth inning, but Horner got out of the jam and Killeen scored on a BOLD error in the next frame to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.

That’s when chaos struck.

With a runner on first and two outs, BOLD’s Riley Kramer smacked a hard ground ball toward the hole between shortstop and third. New Life senior third baseman John Horner made a diving stop, got up and fired over first to retire Kramer and send the Eagles into a frenzy as they headed toward the dugout up 2-0 with one inning to play and a berth in the state final all but assured.

Then they looked back to the field to find the umpire’s hand in the air. The ump ruled Kramer’s bat made contact with Killeen, the catcher, during his swing, so catcher’s interference was called, Kramer was awarded first base and the inning stayed alive.

The next batter swung at the first pitch, and catcher’s interference was once again called to load the bases.

One batter later, an Eagles error allowed two BOLD runners to score and the game was knotted at 2-2 heading into the seventh. Sam Horner described the events as “crazy.”

“We like to make things a little bit interesting,” Eagles coach Dave Darr said.

Still, there wasn’t any panic in the New Life dugout. Darr said his seniors calmed everyone in between innings.

“I knew we were going to come back,” Eagles senior Sam Mazon said. “We were fired up and ready to hit.”

Sophomore Ben Brown’s eighth-inning RBI groundout scored John Horner to give New Life the lead and the victory as Sam Horner shut the door one last time on BOLD in the bottom of the inning.

After New Life’s 8-2 win over Springfield in the state quarterfinals on Thursday in which John Horner threw a complete-game and allowed zero earned runs, Darr said Sam Horner, John Horner’s younger brother, usually likes to try to one-up his brother.

Was his masterful performance on Friday enough to do that?

“I’d like to say I think so,” Sam Horner said with a big smile on Friday.

New Life now advances to the Class A state final on Monday at noon at Target Field to play for a championship.

“I can’t even believe it,” Sam Horner said. “There’s over 150 teams in Class A, and we’re going to end up in the final two. That’s just amazing to me.”