Millers notch one upset in state playoffs
Upsetting a top seed in the opening round of the Wisconsin Baseball Association playoffs showed that the New Richmond Millers are capable of competing with the best amateur teams in Wisconsin.
Pitching is what separate the eight state qualifiers from those teams left behind. The Millers' hopes of reaching this weekend's state championships were extinguished in a 7-0 loss to Coon Valley in the second round of the WBA playoffs on Sunday.
The WBA state championships will be played this Friday through Sunday at Oakey Park in Osceola.
The Millers opened the tournament in Coon Valley on Saturday by facing Everest, a team that had drawn a top seed in the bracket. The two pitchers used drastically different styles, with New Richmond ace Hayden Zimmerman finally winning out in the 4-2 Millers victory. This is the first time since 2001 that the Millers have advanced beyond the first round of the WBA state tournament. In 2001 New Richmond lost to La Crescent, Minn. 11-10 in the second round of the playoffs. La Crescent went on to win the state championship that year.
Zimmerman pitched with exemplary control in the game. He struck out 12 batters while allowing one walk and five hits. Everest starter Kody McHugh threw hard like Zimmerman, but he couldn't match Zimmerman's mastery of his pitches. McHugh was in a number of jams because of the walks he issued.
Everest's runs came on a rare burst of defensive miscues by the Millers. New Richmond committed three errors in the third inning and Everest added two hits to produce its two runs.
The score remained 2-0 until the eighth inning. Ryan Telschow led off by reaching on an error. Jonah Lansing walked and Sean Conrad singled to load the bases. Gabe Paulson followed with a single to chase home the Millers' first run.
Mitch Paquin then tried a squeeze bunt to get a run home, but Everest was able to get an out at home plate on a close play.
That left Dan Leavens as New Richmond's final hope to capitalize on this opportunity. Leavens has been the Millers' best clutch hitter this season and he produced again. On a full count, Leavens ripped a fastball to the rightfield gap, bringing home all three baserunners to give the Millers the lead.
Zimmerman took care of business in the ninth, closing out the win with a pair of strikeouts and an infield pop fly.
Millers manager Ryan Stephens said Zimmerman throws as hard as many of the top pitchers he faces, but Zimmerman has an advantage on most of them. He said most hard throwers throw pitches with very little movement. Zimmerman's pitches have natural movement, making it much more difficult for hitters to get solid contact.
Stephens said developing a second pitcher who would be close to Zimmerman's level would be ideal. Conrad, Josh Leavens and Coleman Roskam are the team's best hopes of progressing to that level. Stephens said they all strengths that can be built upon in hopes of making the pitching staff stronger. Stephens said several of the state-qualifying teams are six-deep on their pitching staff and he'd like to add more arms to the team for next season.
Conrad drew the starting nod against Coon Valley on Sunday. The Millers had some difficulty with the all-dirt infield on Coon Valley's field. Stephens said there weren't the normal bounces that they see on a grass infield and the dirt infield tended to result in more bad hops.
Coon Valley scored four runs in the first inning on three hits and two Millers errors. Coon Valley added another run in the third inning and two more in the fourth inning. Stephens relieved Conrad after the fifth inning and pitched three shutout innings.
The Millers were held to three hits in Sunday's loss.
Veteran second baseman Jon Will led the Millers with four hits in the tournament. Paulson and Dan Leavens each delivered two hits.
Here are the opening round matchups for the WBA state tournament at Osceola this weekend.
Game 1: Friday, 6:30 p.m. - Osceola Braves vs. Sparta Millers
Game 2 - Friday, 9 p.m. - River Falls Fighting Fish vs. Prescott Pirates
Game 3 - Saturday, 10 a.m. - Menomonie Eagles vs. Haugen Knights
Game 4 - Saturday, 1:30 p.m. - Brill Millers vs. Coon Valley Blues