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New Life Academy softball: Eagles back on track; win nine straight

New Life Academy senior Natalie Schad and the Eagles softball team went 5-1 in six games last week, including a runner-up finish at the Bloomington Kennedy Tournament.

In its quest to become the first Minnesota high school softball team to win four consecutive state championships, the New Life Academy softball team extended its season-long win streak to nine games last week, before falling to Class AAA Bloomington Kennedy in the championship game of the Bloomington Kennedy Tournament.

In six games last week, New Life Academy went 5-1, with Minnesota Christian Athletic Association wins of 10-0 over Legacy Christian Academy on Tuesday, May 3, 23-0 over Bethany Academy (5-7; 2-5 MCAA) on Wednesday, May 4, a 2-0 non-conference victory over Concordia Academy on Thursday, May 5, and wins of 6-1 over Faribault and 3-1 over Irondale in the Bloomington tournament, before falling 6-0 to host Kennedy to end the busy stretch.

"We're playing pretty well," NLA senior co-captain Katie Stodolka said. "We're working hard. We've had a few more outdoor practices, which has helped a lot. It's been hard being in the gym a lot because of the weather and how cold and rainy it's been."

Since losing its first game this year -- New Life's first conference loss in six years -- 5-4 to Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity on April 12, New Life Academy -- which is ranked second in Class A behind New Ulm Cathedral -- outscored its opponents 90-6 in nine straight wins, before finally losing again.

"We kind of needed that to wake up a little bit," Stodolka said. "We can't take anything for granted and need to work really hard."

Last week, senior pitcher Rebekah Schmidt hurled a second-straight no-hitter in a 10-0 win over Legacy Christian Academy, then threw three no-hit innings against Bethany Academy before being pulled with the Eagles (11-2; 6-1 MCAA) leading 23-0.

Schmidt said the team is better because of the loss in April.

"There were some tears shed, but it was almost good for us," she said. "It was our first loss in the conference in six years. I think we've all learned from it and moved on. It's humbling. We have a lot to do and to work on still. We can all get better."

The Eagles amassed 10 hits in the win over Legacy Christian Academy (1-9; 1-4 MCAA). NLA senior Lauren St. John led the way, going 3-for-4 with a double. Additionally, senior Natalie Schad went 2-for-3 with a triple, and two runs scored and Lauren Anders and Valerie Hohol each had two RBI. Schmidt struck out eight in the win.

New Life Academy had 15 hits in the five-inning win over Bethany Academy. Amanda Heidmann led the way at the plate, going 3-for-4 with four runs scored. Additionally, Schmidt was 2-for-5 with a home run and five RBI, St. John was 2-for-3 with four runs scored, Anders was 2-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBI, and Nicole Johnson was 2-for-2 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI. Schad and Chloe Westlund also each had two RBI and Stodolka scored two runs.

Schmidt struck out five of the nine batters she faced, while Hohol struck out four batters, allowing one hit in two innings pitched.

In the win over Concordia Academy (8-4), Schmidt allowed one hit and one walk while striking out 13. The Eagles scored two runs on seven hits. Schad went 2-for-3 in the game and Hohol, Stodolka, Malorie Giere, St. John and Schmidt each had one hit -- Schmidt's being a two-run home run in the first inning.

"We're hitting really well," Schmidt said. "Our hitting is what we build on and what fires us up. But, vice versa, when we shut them down on defense that fires us up too. For a while we weren't getting shutouts and people were scoring on us. But, it's coming together now."

NLA needs just two more conference wins to take their sixth-consecutive conference title.

In the opening round of the Class AAA, Bloomington Kennedy Tournament, New Life Academy pounded out nine hits and six run in a 6-1 win over Faribault (4-9).

Stodolka led the offense in the win, going 2-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Anders had two hits and two RBI and Schad knocked in two runs. In the pitching circle, Schmidt allowed just two hits, striking out 17.

Against Irondale, which is in second place in the North Suburban Conference and 10-1 overall, NLA rapped five hits and scored a pair of runs in the top of the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie.

Nicole Johnson had a pair of hits in the game and one RBI and Schad was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

Tied 1-1 Stodolka laid down a bunt, which was misplayed by Irondale's first basemen, allowing Heidmann to score from second base. Stodolka was then driven in by a single from Schad. Schmidt and the NLA defense then held on 1-2-3 for the win.

The championship game against Bloomington Kennedy started just 15 minutes later.

Bloomington Kennedy scored a run in the second inning, two runs in the third inning and three runs in the fourth inning to take a 6-0 lead.

New Life loaded the bases in the first inning and the fourth inning, but couldn't score.

"We have been very consistent with getting those key hits with runners in scoring position, but it was just one of those days when we were making good contact, but always at a defender," Ramey said. "I told the girls after the game, if your going to have a game like this, better to do it May 7 than June 7 at state."

The Eagles took on Somerset, Wis., on Monday, May 9, and Trinity School on Tuesday, May 10, after the Bulletin went to press. Next, New Life Academy will compete in the Benilde-St. Margaret's tournament on Saturday, May 14. Third-ranked Class AAA foe Hastings and Class AAA schools Prior Lake and Edina will be among the teams competing.

"We have always been blessed the past few years to schedule a very good test with over half of our games against AAA and AA schools," Ramey said. "Even though our win-loss record may not be perfect, the past several years the lessons we learn from this type of ball gives us a huge edge when facing the top A schools in the state tourney."