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Battles for first place await Eagles

It's showtime for New Life Academy's baseball team this week.

The Eagles, first in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association with a 6-0 record, play the second and third-best teams in the conference.

New Life (6-2, 6-0 MCAA) played second-place Lester Prairie yesterday after the Bulletin went to press. The Eagles travel to third-place Meadow Creek tomorrow. When the last out is recorded Thursday, the MCAA champion will be all but decided.

"I told the boys, 'This week is where we prove whether or not we're ready for the next level,'" coach Dennis Goodwin said.

New Life had only one game's worth of action last week to prepare for its big two-game stretch. The Eagles blanked Southwest Christian 3-0 April 30.

Junior pitcher Mike Sarne was the difference. Sarne went the distance, recording five strikeouts and one walk while facing only 26 batters in seven innings. He permitted only three hits and four base runners for the game.

"When he's mentally prepared and comes out to pitch, he really does a nice job for us," Goodwin said.

Sarne was a picture of efficiency down the stretch, retiring the side in order in each of the last four innings. Not known as an overpowering pitcher, Sarne used different speeds on his fastball to keep Stars' batters befuddled.

Offensively, New Life took some time to find its groove. Twice the Eagles loaded the bases and came away with nothing.

New Life scored its runs in the fifth and seventh innings after Southwest Christian's starter was pulled. Andy Meier was 3-for-4 with one RBI. Luke Sabbann was 2-for-3, David Gibbons 1-for-3 and Bob Folsom 2-for-4.

Goodwin spent a few hours last weekend crunching his team's numbers, and discovered a number of good reasons why the Eagles are playing well.

The team batting average is up, as is the run production, New Life averages seven runs per outing, eight runs per game against MCAA competition.

The Eagles are also getting it together mentally. Goodwin said his players have missed "six of seven" signs all season. One year ago, New Life missed eight to 10 signs per game, with gusts to 17.

In all adds up to an undefeated record in the MCAA. But all that could change this week if the Eagles aren't dialed in for every game.

"I don't think the guys are cocky because the other teams are gunning for us," Goodwin said. "These teams this week are going to be after us with everything they've got."