New Life Academy softball: Eagles win seventh straight conference title
Last week was seventh heaven for the New Life Academy softball team.
The Eagles wrapped up their conference season this past week going 3-0 and laid claim to an incredible seventh straight Minnesota Christian Athletic Association title.
On the year, NLA went undefeated, 9-0, in conference play, and showed that despite losing five senior starters from last year's fourth-straight Class A state championship team they were correct in not conceding this year as a "rebuilding year."
"We knew we had a lot of great players to replace this year, as last year's graduating class was a tremendous group of players, including a Division I pitcher (Rebekah Schmidt, Drake University) and one of our top hitters in school history (Katie Stodolka, Bethel University)," NLA coach Mick Ramey said. "However, it has been very rewarding to see our young leadership and many new faces step into new roles this year and not skip a beat. We had so many uncertainties heading into the season this year, and as a coaching staff we could not have asked for more from this group of kids. It is one of the reasons that coaching New Life softball is a treat, year in and year out."
On Tuesday, the Eagles faced a tough conference foe in Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity in rain-soaked conditions that, despite some tense moments, ended up being a confidence-building 5-2 victory. The Eagles jumped ahead 1-0 in the second inning off of a single by sophomore Jess Lamb, a walk by freshman Stacia Butwin and an RBI single by seventh-grader Kayla Binsfeld. However, with the game tied 1-1 in the sixth inning and with Lester Prairie threatening with runners on second and third base, the turning point came as Butwin made a tremendous, running catch in right field then quickly threw behind the runner at second base to complete a game-changing double play. From there, the Eagles scored four runs in the last two innings to seal the victory, manufacturing enough offense to support a solid pitching performance by freshman Val Hohol who ended the game with nine strikeouts.
The Eagles then traveled to Bloomington on Wednesday to face Bethany Academy and won going-away 13-2. Sophomore pitcher/third-baseman Amanda Heidmann pitched a complete-game victory and the Eagles offense was led by multiple-hit games from sophomore Chloe Westlund, Hohol and junior Morgan Frazier. Hohol contributed a bases-loaded triple and game-high four RBI and Heidmann added two RBI to help power the Eagles' offense.
In New Life's conference finale on Friday, the Eagles hosted a much-improved Heritage Academy squad and again had to withstand some difficult times but in the end concluded their conference season with a dramatic, and convincing, 8-3 victory. Heritage jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead by the third inning through a combination of timely hitting and taking advantage of walks and errors given by the Eagles' defense. However, the arm of freshman catcher Malorie Giere helped limit the damage with a pickoff of a runner on second and throwing out another running on a base steal attempt. In the bottom of the fourth inning, after singles by both Heidmann and Giere, a huge two out, two strike double by Lamb to deep-center knocked in the first two runs of the game for the Eagles and got the offense going. The Eagles then scored two more runs in the fourth inning with RBIs from Butwin and Binsfeld and tacked on another run in the fifth from a single by Westlund and RBI double from Giere. NLA then all but sealed the game in the sixth inning with a double by Butwin followed by RBI singles from Binsfeld, Westlund and Heidmann.
Hohol went the distance and shut down the opponent with 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh innings to slam the door shut.
On the year, Westlund leads the team in batting with a .446 average and 30 runs, Hohol has a team-high 26 hits and is batting .433, Heidmann is batting .436 with 24 hits and a team-high 18 RBI and Giere has 23 hits, 10 doubles and a .411 average.
With conference play behind them, the Eagles look forward now to defending their six straight section titles as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 4A tournament.
NLA will prepare for the tough sectional battles with two road games and non-conference match ups against Class AA Visitation and Class AAA South St. Paul this week.
New Life will host their first section game on Friday, May 19, at Bielenberg Sports Complex against either No. 8 seed Mounds Park Academy or No. 9 seed Southwest Christian.
Coaches Ramey and Keith Stein are excited to see what the "second season" now holds for their young squad and figure the postseason will be challenging.
"We will work hard, stay mentally tough, and see what happens" said Ramey. "New Life has a tradition of coming through in the clutch, and I expect this year's team will do the same and put up a great fight. "We have a great coaching staff and many volunteers stepping up and helping with batting practice, and managing the fields and equipment, making our job a lot easier."