New Life Academy softball: Eagles soar into section championshipEarlier this season, the New Life Academy softball team won a seventh consecutive conference championship. Today, the Eagles are hoping for a little more seventh heaven.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Earlier this season, the New Life Academy softball team won a seventh consecutive conference championship. This week, the Eagles are hoping for a little more seventh heaven.
On Friday, No. 1-seeded New Life (15-7) earned a trip to the Section 4A championship game with a 6-3 win over No. 2-seeded Minneapolis Washburn at Bielenberg Sports Complex.
Prior to the game, Washburn (16-5) was ranked 10th in the state Class A rankings, while four-time defending state champion New Life was 15th.
“It was kind of an upset,” NLA head coach Mick Ramey said. “I think our pitcher did a real good job of controlling the game and we had some great plays defensively.”
Eagles’ starting pitcher Val Hohol led the way for NLA in the win over Washburn. The freshman threw a complete game, allowing three hits and striking out eight to improve to 15-6 on the season.
At last year’s end-of-the-year banquet, NLA star pitcher and 2011 graduate Rebekah Schmidt literally passed an actual torch to Hohol. This season, she has run with it.
“She’s really improved her speed, her strength and her mental toughness,” Ramey said. “She’s really been coming through for us.”
In the game, up 2-1, New Life Academy freshman Stacia Butwin knocked a bases-clearing, three-run double to give the Eagles a 5-1 lead. Washburn tacked on two runs in the top of the sixth inning to make it a 5-3 game. That’s as close as they would get.
To earn the win, NLA had to overcome a big loss as sophomore Jessica Lamb broke her leg in two places on a slide at home plate. After a lengthy delay the two teams had to regroup and refocus.
“There were some girls crying, but I told them this is what happens sometimes,” Ramey said. “It’s scary, but they regained their composure and came out and played some great ball the last three innings.”
Ramey said Lamb gave the team a thumbs up as she was carted off the field by paramedics.
“I think that put a lot of the girls back at peace,” he said.
In the big inning, NLA loaded the bases with two walks and a single by junior Nicole Johnson, setting the table for Butwin to bust the game open with a three-run double over the left fielder’s head, putting the Eagles up 5-1. NLA scored its first two runs of the game in the first inning as Hohol wrapped an RBI single to score Chloe Westlund, who reached base on a walk, then freshman Malorie Giere plated sophomore Amanda Heidmann with a ground out RBI.
“Our first four batters are all averaging .420 or above,” Ramey said. “They’re the ones scoring most of our runs. But, we are getting some production from five through nine, too.”
To reach the Section 4A semifinal, New Life beat up fifth seed Legacy Christian 9-1 on Tuesday at Bielenberg. Hohol threw a complete game, two-hitter with 11 punch outs.
New Life used two big innings to beat Legacy, scoring five runs in the bottom of the second inning and four runs in the fourth inning. In the big third inning, seventh grader Kayla Binsfeld knocked a huge 2-RBI double and Heidmann and Hohol followed up with a pair of RBI singles. Then, in the fourth inning, Hohol wrapped a 2-RBI double, junior Nicole Johnson hit an RBI triple and Lamb hit an RBI single to put NLA up 9-1 — and the Eagles never looked back.
Only one team, Winona Cotter, has been to eight straight state tournaments. Three teams — St. Bernard’s, Hermantown and NLA — have been to six consecutive state tourneys.
New Life will have to beat Minneapolis Washburn one more time to reach a seventh-straight state tournament, while Washburn would need to beat NLA twice to go to state. The two teams played on Tuesday, May 29, at Hamline University after this edition of the Bulletin went to print.
This year, because New Life has nine new players at nine positions, doesn’t field a senior and has five freshman and two seventh graders on the roster, another run to state would be a surprise to some.
“Our goal was to be at least .500 and be competitive,” Ramey said. “But, we’ve far, far exceeded our goals. To be in this position is a tribute to what the coaching staff has done and the hard work those girls have put in to be successful.”