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Eagles rally in second half to advance

New Life Academy's Evan Atkinson drives to the basket for two points in the second half Saturday against Concordia Academy. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Zach Thor of the Eagles drives the baseline in the second half. Thor had 11 points in New Life's 67-55 win over Concordia Academy in Section 4AA basketball. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Tate Hullett of the Eagles goes up for two of his 12 points Saturday night against Concordia Academy. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

WOODBURY — New Life Academy tightened up the defense and got the transition game going in the second half to knock out visiting Concordia Academy in a Section 4AA quarterfinal game Saturday.

The Eagles rallied from a 31-24 halftime deficit for a 67-55 victory that kept their season alive. New Life outscored Concordia 43-24 in the second half to earn the victory.

"We set the tone with our tempo and pace that second half," said New Life Academy coach Kory Kiekhoefer. "We've been talking about it all week, about playing fast and playing in transition, especially a team like this. In the second half we really got out and did that and being able to press definitely helped us kind of set the tone with the pace we wanted to play it."

"I'm thrilled with the way we responded," Kiekhoefer added. "Going into halftime down seven and even being down way more than that throughout the first half, the way we bounced back and handled adversity — that kind of defines our season is this team's ability to handle adversity is what sets us apart."

Third-seeded New Life Academy (19-8) will play St. Paul Academy (16-12) Tuesday at St. Paul Washington High School in the Section 4AA semifinals in a game starting at 7:45 p.m. Seventh-seed St. Paul Academy upset second-seeded Cristo Rey Jesuit to advance. St. Paul Academy defeated New Life in the final regular-season game this winter, winning 64-53.

"I thought in the first half our defensive communication was kind of poor," said Eagles senior Drew Wynia said. "I thought we stepped it up. I thought we played really hard. We realized that nothing is guaranteed. With only have 18 minutes left, we could be done, so we leave it all on the court and I think we did that, defensively especially."

In the other section semifinal, top-seeded Minnehaha Academy (23-4) will play fourth-seeded Trinity School (18-9), also at St. Paul Washington Tuesday starting at 6 p.m.

The Eagles used a balanced offense to overcome the Beacons. Mark Rygh led New Life offensively with 15 points. Tate Hullett had 12 points, Wynia and Zach Thor 11 each and Eli Gorter eight.

Sixth-seeded Concordia Academy ended its season at 16-12.

Trailing by seven at the half, the Eagles quickly caught the Beacons, outscoring the visitors 11-4 in the first six minutes of the second half. From there, the Eagles gradually pulled away, Two-point baskets by Evan Atkinson and Wynia and a three by Thor then gave New Life a 47-42 advantage with six minutes to play and Concordia never recovered.

"I think it's just we come into the locker room and make adjustments on it in the second half," Thor said. "I think we adjusted really well today. They came out and pressured us a lot in the first half and we had some early turnovers and then in the second half we adjusted to the pressure a lot better."

I think we set more physical screens," Thor added. "When they're doubling like that if you set physical screens you get open a lot easier. So I think it was our screening and definitely our passing got better in the second half."