June 16 is a day John and Sam Horner won’t soon forget.
That Monday afternoon at Target Field, the Horner brothers and the New Life Academy baseball team came together to win a state championship.
“I wanted to end the year on a win,” said Sam Horner, a junior pitcher and infielder. “Only one team does it, and that was us. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in athletics. It was magical.”
This season New Life broke its pregame huddles with a cheer of “family.” The Horners share bloodlines, but New Life coach Dave Darr said when he looked at his team, he saw 16 brothers, not just two.
“The most important thing for us this year was to win as a family and lose as a family,” Darr said. “Our purpose was to be united and win a state championship. All 16 kids on this roster were together, accepted roles and did it.”
The Horner brothers combined to pitch every inning of the state tournament for New Life.
When New Life defeated New York Mills 5-4 in the Class 1A title game, John Horner, a senior pitcher and infielder, earned the victory on the mound. He left after the fourth inning with a 5-4 lead, handing the ball to his younger brother. Sam went in and allowed only two baserunners and struck out three batters to seal the victory.
“He just shut them down,” John Horner said. “I told him to just get us nine more outs and we’d be state champions, and that’s exactly what he did.”
With the victory, the Eagles became the first New Life Academy boys’ team to win a state championship.
Sam Horner said he wanted to win the state title for his brother, who was playing his final high school game.
“It was more than playing for that state title and for myself,” he said. “I was playing for him, for the team and for the school. That motivated me more than anything else.”
In addition to earning the victory over New York Mills, John Horner, who batted .500 in the state tournament with two doubles and five runs scored, pitched a five-hitter in an 8-2 victory over Springfield in the quarterfinals. Sam Horner then pitched eight innings in the semifinals, allowing two hits in a 3-2 win over BOLD.
Both brothers received all-state honors from the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association.
On the year, John Horner, who’ll attend Bethel next year and play baseball for the Royals, led the Eagles with a .465 battling average and a team-best 40 runs scored and 50 RBI. As a pitcher, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.60 ERA.
Darr said John Horner was the Eagles’ quiet leader.
“He was our best ballplayer all year,” Darr said. “He rallied us, motivated us and willed us to wins.”
Sam Horner hit .423 with 38 runs scored, 27 RBI and a team-high 19 doubles. On the mound, he was 5-1 with a 1.32 ERA.
“Sam came up with some big hits for us and threw the best he’s ever thrown this postseason,” Darr said. “He was unbelievable in the state tournament.”
Growing up in Woodbury, the Horner brothers never played on the same team until they attended New Life. Both began their varsity baseball careers as eighth-graders. They first took the field together when John was a freshman and Sam was in eighth grade.
“The state championship was everything we’ve worked for since we were little,” John Horner said. “The whole team is a family, but it’s extra special to be able to share it with a family member. There’s nothing like it.”