In ultimate pressure situation, New Richmond Millers play a gem, earning spot in state playoffs
In the ultimate of pressure situations, the New Richmond Millers received one of their best pitching performances in decades.
With the game dubbed "Win or Die" by the Millers, they left the battlefield victorious, triumphant in a 4-0 win over the Osceola Braves at Citizens Field last Friday.
The mission was simple for the Millers. If they defeated the Braves, they would advance to the Wisconsin Baseball Association state playoffs for the first time since 2009. A loss would mean another agonizing near miss in reaching the playoffs.
Pitcher Hayden Zimmerman has been the Millers' ace this season, but he rose to new heights on Friday. Battling a sore back, Zimmerman wasn't sure he'd be able to work more than a few innings. But as his back loosened, Zimmerman put together one of the grittiest Millers pitching performances of this generation. Zimmerman threw a one-hitter, totally dominating Osceola's hitters with perfectly placed pitches.
The main concerns in the Osceola lineup were a pair of former Millers.
"He reared up every single time against Dave Measner and Blake Berger," Millers manager Ryan Stephens said proudly of Zimmerman. "They were a combined 0-8."
Zimmerman constantly challenged the Osceola hitters. He threw a sizzling fastball at their fists. When Osceola did make contact it led to weak foul balls or strikeouts. Zimmerman struck out 14 Braves. He finished six of his nine innings with a strikeout.
One of those "jam jobs" resulted in Osceola's only hit. In the second inning Zimmerman jammed Osceola's Ryan Rivard, who fisted a ball weakly over Zimmerman's head. Miller shortstop Mitch Paquin made a bare-hand stop as he roamed to the middle of the diamond, unleashing a throw in the same motion. Many in the crowd thought Rivard was out, but the umpire ruled him safe.
The only time Osceola got a runner past first base was in the fifth inning. Rivard walked, was sacrificed to second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Zimmerman got out of the fix by striking out the next two batters.
The Millers were just as determined in their offensive play, with their veteran players coming through in key situations. Matt Peterson showed impressive guile in producing the game's first run. With two outs in the first inning, Peterson lined a single up the middle. He then took as big a lead as possible off first base, drawing a number of pickoff attempts from Osceola pitcher Joe Reed. As soon as Reed fired a pitch home, Peterson took off for second base, getting the steal easily.
Peterson then took a large lead off second, continuing to try to distract Reed. Millers catcher Grant Nelson was able to loft a single over second base, which gave Peterson plenty of time to score.
The cagey play of the Miller veterans continued in the second inning when Paquin drew a one-out walk. Paquin and Ryan Telschow executed a textbook hit-and-run, with Telschow ripping a single through the vacated second base hole. Paquin was able to move to third on the play. Jon Will followed with a ground ball to Measner at shortstop. The Braves tried to turn the double play, but Will's hustle down the line beat the relay throw to first base. Paquin scored on the play, advancing the Millers' lead to 2-0.
Zimmerman scored for the Millers in the fourth inning. Zimmerman and Paquin walked to start the inning. Zimmerman scored from second on Telschow's single to center.
An important insurance run was added in the eighth. Zimmerman walked again and Paquin singled, with Zimmerman moving to third. Telschow then delivered again, with his sacrifice fly giving Zimmerman time to dash home.
Stephens said one of the factors that helped motivate the team was the large crowd that turned out for Friday's game.
"I couldn't thank the crowd enough," he said.
The Millers were scheduled to find out their playoff fate late on Tuesday. Each team is able to draft one player for the playoffs, from a league team that didn't advance. New Richmond selected Elmwood pitcher Dylan DeMotts. The first round of the playoffs will be played on Aug. 10-12.
On Sunday the Millers traveled to Exeland for a double-header. The Millers faced two collegiate pitchers and were able to earn one win during the day. In the opener the Millers were held hitless by UW-Stevens Point pitcher Jake Herbst in a 6-0 loss. In the second game the Millers shocked Exeland by beating University of Virginia pitcher Joel Effertz, 6-4.
The Millers used two pitchers at the opposite ends of the age scale for the double-header. Coleman Roskam, the 17-year-old who'll be a senior at Baldwin-Woodville, started the first game. The Millers struggled defensively behind Roskam, who gave up two earned runs.
Making the start in the second game was the senior member of the Millers, 41-year-old Jon Will. This was Will's first attempt at pitching since joining the team in 2007, but it likely won't be his last.
"He's the Phil Niekro of our league. He threw a nasty knuckleball," Stephens said.
Will worked the first four innings, allowing one run. Stephens took over in the fifth, but ran into trouble in the seventh, surrendering a three-run homer. Paquin came on to get the last two outs of the game.
The Millers took charge of the game with four runs in the second inning. Will and Conrad singled home runs and Stephens brought home the final two runs with a double off the leftfield fence.
In the sixth inning the Millers added two runs on singles by Conrad and Gabe Paulson and two Exeland errors.
The Millers will play their final home game of the 2012 season this Saturday. They will host Spring Valley in a non-league game at 7:30 p.m. at Citizens Field.