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New Life Academy holds off Sacred Heart in the opening round of the Minnesota Class A boys basketball tourney

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Landon Denny of East Grand Forks Sacred Heart goes up for a shot against New Life Academy during the Minnesota Class A boys basketball tournament Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald

MINNEAPOLIS — East Grand Forks Sacred Heart was in the middle of its third big rally in its Minnesota state Class A quarterfinal game against New Life Academy Wednesday at Williams Arena when senior Sam Gapp stole the ball and raced toward the basket.

Gapp went up for a layup with less than 3 minutes remaining and Sacred Heart trailing by six, but New Life junior Maxwell Briggs stripped Gapp and the ball went out of bounds. Instead of the sure two points, Sacred Heart would only get a free throw out of the trip.

“I threw a bad pass to Kollin (Kaemingk) — I shouldn’t have thrown it,” Briggs said. “I was like I have to hustle and try to get something out of it, rather than have them get a layup. I’m pretty good at the run-through swipe and I knew he would stick the ball out. I just kind of poked it up.”

Sacred Heart eventually got a free throw after the ball was inbounded, but the play interrupted its momentum and New Life would go on to win 64-58 and advance to the state semifinal Friday against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

Sacred Heart fell behind early 8-0, but a quick timeout by coach Destry Sterkel settled the team as the Eagles were making their first-ever trip to state.

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“I don’t think they were too nervous, I think they just had a couple bad turnovers,” Sterkel said. “They responded well and from that point on I think, technically head-to-head, we held on. I’m just so proud of this group. We came all the way from East Grand Forks — it’s a long ride. Those guys had a 15-minute trek down here. Everything was stacked against us and we responded.”

After trailing 36-30 at halftime, Sacred Heart fell behind by 10 points after three quick buckets by New Life. The team picked up some momentum when 6-foot-8 New Life big man Erick Reader went to the bench with his third foul.

"Getting him out of the game was big," said Sterkel. "He's probably the most talented big man we've seen all year."

The Eagles scored 10 straight points to tie it back up at 42-42, forcing New Life coach Robbie Whitney to call a timeout.

After the timeout, New Life went on a 15-2 run and opened up a 13-point lead.

“It’s part of the game,” Gapp said. “You get down, you come back to tie it up and they call timeout. Your momentum slows down and that’s what they did. When we got back out there — we didn’t lose our confidence — but our shots weren’t going in and theirs were. They were running a little faster down the court and getting a little open.”

Sacred Heart (28-4) would cut the lead to 62-58 after Kobe Tomkinson hit a 3-pointer with 1:49 left, but the Eagles wouldn’t score again and Kaemingk hit a pair of free throws with less than 20 seconds left to seal the win.

New Life Academy coach Robbie Whitney said he was pleased with how his team responded.

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"I told (the team) they were going to make a run," Whitney said. "They're a good team. I just said, 'How do we respond?' That's been our motto all year."

Tomkinson led Sacred Heart with 18 points and Kaemingk led all scorers with 20.

Despite the loss, Sterkel was happy with his team’s performance and its first-ever state tournament appearance.

“We’ve been in a lot of these close games or overtime games and these guys never give up,” Sterkel said. “They stay in the possession. Something bad or something good happens, they let it go and the continue marching to what’s in front of them. We didn’t get off to a hot start, but we finished strong and I’m proud of the way these boys fought. We can always count on them doing that.

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Josiah Sundby of Sacred Heart drives to the basket during the Eagles' game against New Life Academy on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, at Williams Arena
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald
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Sacred Heart fans react during the Eagles' state tournament game against New Life Academy on Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald
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Sacred Heart's Kobe Tomkinson looks to drive against New Life Academy's Kollin Kaemingk during the Minnesota state Class A boys basketball tournament Wednesday, March 23, 2022.
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald
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Sacred Heart coach Destry Sterkel talks to his players during a timeout during the Eagles' state tournament game Wednesday, March 23, 2020.
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald

New Life Academy 64,Sacred Heart 58

Halftime: NLA 36, Sacred Heart 30

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Sacred Heart – Sam Gapp 10, Ethan Arntson 14, Landon Denny 5, Josiah Sundby 3, Kobe Tompkinson 18, Isaac Zavoral 3, Zach Martin 5

New Life Academy – Briggs 13, Kaemingk 20, Huebsch 6, Woolf 9, Reader 8, Wall 3, Bertram 3, Hendricks 3

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