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New Richmond shortstop Mitch Paquin (right) turns a double play in the Millers' most recent home game. The Millers have performed much better at home this season.

New Richmond Millers fall short of their expectations in 2011 baseball season

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It was a season of extremes for the New Richmond Millers, but it ultimately ended in disappointment.

The Millers finished the St. Croix Valley League last Wednesday, getting drilled in Menomonie 19-1. The Millers barely missed out on making the Wisconsin State Baseball playoffs. The Millers finished at 7-9 in the SCVL and they needed to finish above the .500 level to get into the playoffs.

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At times the Millers were awe inspiring and at times they were yawn inspiring. The Millers finished 6-2 in home games in the SCVL, but they were a brutal 1-7 on the road. There were times when they played with a bench full of reserves and there were games when the Millers had to recruit players the night of the game to field a team.

Much of the Millers' success, and lack thereof, hinged on pitching. Hayden Zimmerman, Richie Klein, Sean Conrad and Matt Peterson all were highly effective pitchers in brief stretches this season, but none of them was available for the full season. Millers manager Ryan Stephens said he is hoping to build next season's pitching staff around Zimmerman and Conrad. Peterson started the season on the mound, but proved too valuable in centerfield to return to pitching.

Getting a game-to-game commitment from each player was the biggest issue for the Millers this season. The numbers on the team got so low at mid-season that Stephens went recruiting, bringing in Conrad and Cody Joiner from Somerset. Both played well enough that Stephens considers them keystones in the team's future. Catcher Grant Nelson was another of the young Millers who cemented their place in the team's future with the commitment shown this season.

"It's time to find kids who'll commit," Stephens said.

The commitment level hit a season low last Wednesday. With several players tied up with work obligations and others apathetic because the Millers were out of the playoff hunt, the Millers only had six rostered players show up for the game in Menomonie. Stephens, Peterson, Joiner, Jon Will, Mitch Paquin and Josh Bottolfson were the only players to show up for the game. They recruited Josh Calleja, Joey Knops and Derek Luehman so they could field a team.

The result wasn't a surprise. The Millers scored their run in the second inning, when Peterson doubled home Luehman, his cousin. The Millers were limited to three hits in the game.

The Millers will be back in action this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., hosting the Spring Valley Hawks. This will be the Millers' Fan Appreciation Game. The Hawks were a member of the SCVL until the franchise moved to River Falls several years ago. Now a new faction is trying to rebuild the Spring Valley team. They hope to be reinstated into the SCVL for next year, which would leave the league with 13 teams.

Wednesday's game at Citizens Field will be the final game of the season for the Millers. The Alumni Game that had been scheduled for Saturday will not be played this year.

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Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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