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Boys' Basketball: Eagles gear up for section tournament

New Life Academy won't rest on its laurels after achieving its winningest regular season under boys' basketball head coach Doug Linton.

A win Tuesday, Feb. 28, over Providence Academy 79-51 concluded a 23-3 regular season for the Eagles. It marked a program-high 23 regular season wins, one better than last year's 22-5 campaign.

"It was pretty nice to see them get 23 wins this year," Linton said. "Hopefully, there will be a few more."

NLA finished 24-6 in 2015-16 before St. Croix Lutheran ousted the Eagles in the Class 2A, Section 4 semifinals. This season's Eagles could eclipse the 24-win mark by the semifinals, but they want to finish at least two games better than 24. That would mean a trip to the state tournament for the first time since 2004.

"That's been their goal," Linton said. "They want a chance to win a section title."

New Life Academy drew the No. 3 seed for this year's section tournament after reeling off seven straight wins to end the regular season. That included a Minnesota Christian Athletic Association tournament title Feb. 25 in a 67-59 win over Maranatha Christian Academy.

Getting through the section field will pose as daunting a task as ever for the Eagles.

"We know the semifinals and finals are going to be really good games against very good teams," Linton said. "Minneapolis Roosevelt is an outstanding team, two seed. Number one (Minnehaha Academy), we already know about them."

Minnehaha Academy (20-5), the No. 1 seed, has two NCAA Division I caliber stars in Jalen Suggs and JaVonni Bickham. The Eagles met the Redhawks Jan. 3 and lost 59-54.

Roosevelt (17-8) could also give the Eagles a challenge. While the two haven't met yet, the Teddies beat MCAA regular season champion Heritage Christian Academy 80-56 Feb. 28. NLA did not fare as well against Heritage in a 71-49 loss Jan. 31.

New Life Academy opens the tournament with No. 14 seed Twin Cities Academy at home at 7 p.m. Thursday. A win would set up a second-round game Saturday against either St. Agnes or Math and Science Academy. The winner moves on to the section semifinals March 14 at St. Paul Washington. The section final takes place March 17 at Washington.

New Life Academy will have to play its first game in a week-and-a-half in the matchup with Twin Cities Academy. The Eagles last played in that Feb. 28 win over Providence Academy.

"We got in some opportunities to execute our offense," Linton said.

Drew Wynia led the Eagles with 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the win over the Lions. Wynia also had five rebounds.

Chris Ketema scored 14 points for the Eagles and had six rebounds. Kyle Kaemingk added 13 points with a 4-for-8 performance from three-point range. Adam Busch stepped up with 12 assists.

Linton had his team keep sharp and competitive in recent practices and a scrimmage leading up to the section tournament. The Eagles hope to keep soaring from where they left off last month.

Linton said they "need to just focus on playing our best. That's what we're capable of doing."