The magical season that has become the New Life Academy 2006 softball campaign continued Tuesday afternoon at Dunning Field in St. Paul as the Eagles twice toppled Heritage/Providence to capture the school's first-ever Section 4A title.
"These girls did it," coach Marco Machado said. "I always thought we had a good chance, but they've done even better than I thought was possible."
The Eagles ran their record to a perfect 22-0 and will enter the State Tournament next week as the de facto No. 1 seed in Class A.
New Ulm Christian, previously the only team ranked higher than New Life in the state rankings, lost two games and was bounced from its section tournament, leaving the Eagles as the sole unblemished team in all of Minnesota high school softball.
"It's just unbelievable," said second baseman Olivia Mann. "The perfect season -- it's just amazing."
The Eagles had little problem with Heritage in game number one of the best-of-three format, as Kristin Stein, Rebekah Schmidt and Allison Baranick all scored in the top of the first inning. NLA never looked back in an 8-1 victory.
"I was hoping we could get on them early," Machado said. "I figured it would take a lot of the wind out of their sails."
Pitcher Danielle Schmidt, who hurled a perfect game at Heritage in their only regular-season meeting -- a 1-0 NLA win -- again confounded her opponents with 3 -1/3 innings of perfect pitching before Heritage -- trailing 6-0 at the time -- managed a double in the fourth that would be manufactured into Heritage's lone run of the game.
"I jinxed her," said New Life baseball catcher David Sarne, who was watching the game and had inquired as to Schmidt's no-no just moments earlier.
Despite Sarne's downtrodden sentiment, Eagles' fans were able to rest easy as the fourth inning would represent the extent of Heritage's offensive output.
New Life piled on two more runs in the fifth as Baranick and Jordan Miller would both score and the Eagles cruised to the seven-run victory.
Following a 15-minute break, game two commenced with Heritage taking an early 1-0 lead on a succession of wild pitches that followed a leadoff single. New Life knotted the game at 1-all in the bottom of the frame as Jenny Ramey hit a leadoff double then stole third with the pitcher holding the ball and scoring on Danielle Schmidt's smash single.
The game would remain 1-all until the third when two errors, a flare single and a fielder's choice would account for two Heritage runs as New Life trailed 3-1 despite seven strikeouts from Schmidt.
"Seven strikeouts?" Machado exclaimed as the game headed into the bottom of the third. "Those errors are killing us."
The Eagles struck back for one run in their turn in the third as Ramey walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored as Baranick, running for Schmidt after a walk, was engaged in a rundown between first and second base.
New Life would take the lead for good as Stephanie Pastirik's two-RBI single plated both Olivia Mann and Kari Stodolka -- both who gained bases after being hit by pitches -- to make the score 4-3. Pastirik, Stein, and Rebekah Schmidt would all cross home plate in the inning to push the Eagles' advantage to 8-3.
"We didn't play our best game," Machado said. "But we were able to keep at it and chip away."
Yet, with eight runs in their pocket, New Life was not done yet as Rebekah Schmidt ripped a bases-loaded three-run double in the fifth inning scored Stodolka, Ramey and Stein to make the score a would-be final 11-3.
"Everybody hit today," Machado said. "Up and down the lineup, just like all year long."
Danielle Schmidt would record three more strikeouts while allowing just one more baserunner over the final two innings as New Life punched its ticket to State with an eight-run win.
"I love it," Stein said. "This was one of our goals from the beginning of the season and it really feels incredible to have accomplished it."
Machado fought back happy tears following the victory that has climaxed his seven years as coach.
"I am pretty emotional about it," he said. "These girls are like my own kids and they've worked so hard to get here -- I'm just excited for them and for everyone who has supported us.
"These girls will represent everyone who has ever been involved with New Life softball as they go to the State Tournament, and I am so proud of them."