Baseball: Motivated Eagles aim for deep run
In six years as head coach at New Life Academy, Dave Darr has not seen a group quite this motivated.
"This is the most dedicated group of kids I've had," Darr said. "They spent the offseason hitting and throwing and working out. Most of them are going to be juniors, and I think (the work ethic) rubbed off on the other kids. They play other sports but found time to do those type of things for not only baseball but other sports."
Last year's Eagles were stocked with sophomores but still managed to go 19-7 and reach the Section 4AA championship before being knocked out by two-time defending state champion Minnehaha Academy.
The talent was obvious a year ago, but the then-underclassmen still had to learn the varsity game. With age comes maturity, and Darr has seen that pay off early in practice.
"This group has grown up a lot. Nothing's going to be new for them, which is great," Darr said. "They won't be awed by guys throwing in the upper 80s. It's going to be hard, but that awe shouldn't be there."
The Eagles' offense will have to take a new approach with all-state standout Henry George now playing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
"A lot of guys relied on him to set the table and that's how we'd score runs," Darr said. "If he didn't get on base easily, guys thought, 'Oh no, we're in trouble.' ... Now guys know, 'I can do this.'
"Overall, I think everyone will be that much better," Darr continued. "Last year we had to rely on one-through-four or one-through-five. This year, we're hoping we don't have to do that."
On the mound, the top three are set for New Life Academy, led by senior Zach Thor.
"He threw very well for us last year," Darr said of Thor. "He pitched all our big games. He's done that since he came in at the end of his sophomore season and did some good things."
Behind him will be juniors Cooper Falteisek and Noah Rodriguez.
"We just have to find some freshmen and sophomores that can eat up some innings," Darr said. "We've got arms, now we need to figure out who can pitch."
With winter weather looming over Minnesota this week, New Life Academy is tentatively scheduled to begin the 2018 season against Heritage Christian Academy at the HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury.
Ultimately, the Eagles' goal to get to St. Cloud, and potentially Target Field, runs through Minnehaha Academy.
"They're going to be tough again," Darr said. "They bring back their top two pitchers. But if we can beat the two-time state champs, we'll be well-tested for state."