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New Life Academy softball: Eagles earn 8th straight conference crown, section's top seed

NLA sophomore catcher Malorie Giere and the Eagles earned the top seed in this week's sections and look to reach a state record eighth-straight state tournament.

The New Life Academy softball team has kept one streak alive, and this week it hopes to continue another historic run.

Last week, the Eagles extended their string of Minnesota Christian Athletic Association conference championship titles to an amazing eight-straight seasons and secured a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 4A playoffs.

This year, New Life, which finished the regular season 12-3 overall and a perfect 8-0 in MCAA play, is looking to make it eight straight state tournament appearances in a row, which would tie Winona Cotter for the most consecutive state tournament appearances in state history. A year ago, the New Life Academy softball team celebrated a seventh straight trip to the state tournament, beating Minneapolis Washburn 5-3 for the Section 4A championship.

"Our girls are experienced and have proven to be tough under pressure," New Life Academy head coach Mick Ramey said. "They are a great group to take on this challenge with. Our coaching staff has done an amazing job again this year with working with all the girls, and making improvements every day. It should be a very exciting two weeks."

Making history is nothing new to the New Life Academy softball program, however. The Eagles already rewrote the record books, winning four consecutive state championship titles between 2008 and 2011.

Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for New Life Academy. But, despite fielding a roster with no seniors and starting nine players at new positions, the Eagles brought home hardware from the state tournament for a sixth straight year, taking fourth in the state.

Last Monday, New Life defeated Trinity 14-2 and on Friday they made quick work of Southwest Christian with a 10-0 victory. Sophomore pitcher Val Hohol went the distance in both games and tallied 20 K's between the two contests, looking dominant throughout and not allowing either team to muster much offense.

The offensive production versus Trinity was led by multiple-hit games by junior Chloe Westlund, with a double and a single, and sophomores Hohol, who had a triple and two singles, and Malorie Giere, who had a double and a single. Against Southwest, NLA seniors Nicole Johnson and Anna Phipps enjoyed nice days at the plate. Johnson blasted a home run and added a single and Phipps rapped two singles. Also, junior Amanda Heidmann and eighth grader Kayla Binsfeld each had two singles.

The Friday contest versus Southwest was the last regular season home game for seniors Johnson, Phipps, Amanda Pastirik and Sarah Stacey.

"We have had great team players in our seniors this year," New Life Academy head coach Mick Ramey said. "They have contributed to the team's success both on and off the field and they will be missed. We wish we could have them for a few more years."

Sandwiched in-between those two conference victories was a 3-1 loss at Irondale, a Class AAA school that sits atop the North Suburban Conference and is ranked No. 2 in its section (5AAA). The Eagles fought hard and held a very good hitting team to only three runs, but could not string enough hits together in any inning to create any rallies for themselves.

"We had a couple of chances to get something going, but just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it," Ramey said. "But, we competed and held a very good team at bay for the most part with our pitching and defense, so we had some positives to take from it."

The Eagles started sectional play with a double-header on Tuesday, May 21, after the Bulletin went to press. NLA took on ninth seed Columbia Heights in its playoff opener. A win there would set up a showdown between either fourth-seeded Legacy Christian or fifth-seeded Southwest Christian. With two wins, New Life would advance to the quarterfinals on Thursday, May 23. A win Thursday and NLA is in the finals on Tuesday, May 28, at Hamline University.

Other teams of note in Section 4A are No. 2 seed St. Agnes and No. 3 seed Minneapolis Washburn.

"We have some very good teams to battle with this year in our section," Ramey said. "Minneapolis Washburn is ranked No. 1 on the Minn-scores QFR rankings, so we have our work cut out for us if we want to get back to Mankato for the state tournament this year."