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Boys' Basketball: Eagles win thriller over St. Croix Lutheran

New Life Academy's Jaxson Kavanagh drives to the basket in the second half against St. Croix Lutheran Saturday. (Photo by John Molene)1 / 3
Senior guard Adam Busch of New Life Academy drives through the lane and passes to an open teammate in the second half Saturday against St. Croix Lutheran. (Photo by John Molene)2 / 3
Chris Ketema of the Eagles looks for an opening in the St. Croix Lutheran defense in the second half of New Life Academy's 59-54 win Saturday. (Photo by John Molene)3 / 3

In a game of spurts, the Eagles of New Life Academy had more and better runs in a 59-54 boys' basketball win at St. Croix Lutheran Saturday.

New Life Academy senior forward Kyle Kaemingk led all scorers with 23 points, dropping in five 3-point field goals, including three big shots down the stretch to key the triumph. Clutch free-throw shooting in the final minutes by the Eagles sealed the win.

“Coach (Paul) Mork had a great comment,” New Life head coach Doug Linton said. “A game like this is worth five other games when you’re winning easy. It just teaches you how to handle that, because this is what your playoff basketball, your conference, your section play is going to be and if you have any dreams of winning conference or sections you’ve got to play into this.”

New Life Academy led by 11 early in the second half, but the host Crusaders chipped away and eventually rallied to take a 51-50 lead with three minutes to play in what turned out to be a rough-and-tumble contest.

The Eagles made all the plays they needed to down the stretch to hold off the Crusaders and earn the win, especially cashing in at the free-throw line.

New Life senior guard Chris Ketema made a pair of free throws with 1:14 left to give the Eagles a 55-51 lead. St. Croix Lutheran scored on a 3-point play to cut the lead to 55-54 with 21 seconds left.

Senior guard Jaxson Kavanagh drained both halves of two one-and-one free throws with 14 seconds left to secure the victory.

“I think tonight we held our composure throughout the game really well when we weren’t getting the calls that we wanted,” Kavanagh said.  “I just think we really built off the last game even though we had a great win. But I felt that this game really helped us step in the direction that we wanted.”

The Eagles were near-perfect at the line, making 6-for-6 free throws in the second half and 13-for-14 for the game.

New Life Academy led 27-18 at the half and stretched it to 34-22 on a three-point goal by Kaemingk early in the second half. But the Crusaders went on an 8-0 run to get back into the game, and the rest of the way was a dogfight. The officials loosely called the game, and both teams took turns mixing it up.

“We want that,” Kavanagh said. “We’ll take anything that a team will give us.”

“I’m going to echo what he said,” Linton said. “I thought our guys showed a lot of self-control. And that’s something we’ve (talked) about as a team, to be able to handle any adversity. That could be an opponent, could a crowd, could be officials, could be our own selves if we’re not playing well.”

St. Croix Lutheran slipped to 4-7.

The Eagles (7-1, 1-0) return to MCAA play Tuesday, hosting Legacy Christian (7-3, 1-0), starting at 7:30 p.m.