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Time off comes at right time for New Richmond Millers

New Richmond pitcher Hayden Zimmerman fires the ball to first to get an out after fielding a ground ball in a recent Millers game.

A 12-day span between games couldn't come at a better time for the New Richmond Millers.

The Millers currently stand at 7-6 in the St. Croix Valley League. Manager Ryan Stephens believes the team has to win its final two league games to qualify for the Wisconsin State Amateur Baseball playoffs this year.

Both of the Millers' remaining league games will be against their long-time nemesis, the Osceola Braves. The first of those meetings will be the annual New Richmond Fun Fest clash between the two teams, on Friday, July 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Citizens Field. The teams will meet again at Osceola's Oakey Park on Saturday, July 21.

The Millers had two chances to improve their ranking in the SCVL last week, but they fell short both times. The Millers ended their long June homestand last Wednesday with a 16-4 loss to Menomonie. On Sunday the Millers went to River Falls and suffered a 3-0 loss to the Fighting Fish.

The two games couldn't have been more different. The Millers hit the ball decently against Menomonie, but they were no match for the power-packed Eagles.

"I've never seen a team hit like that," Stephens said. "They put on a show."

Menomonie set the tone in the first inning, when the Eagles' third hitter pounded a homer over the pine trees that stand outside the leftfield fence at Citizens Field. The Eagles scored three more runs in the third inning, then added three more in the fourth on a three-run dinger.

That knocked out Millers starting pitcher Josh Leavens. Stephens came on in relief, but he fared no better against the Menomonie mauling.

The Millers were able to score four runs late in the game, but the runs came long after the final outcome had already been decided.

Sunday's game was an outstanding pitching matchup between two staff aces who spent the spring season hurling for college teams. New Richmond's Hayden Zimmerman was an all-conference pitcher at St. John's University. River Falls relied on JP Feyereisen, who went 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA for UW-Stevens Point this spring.

Zimmerman pitched well enough to win, but the Miller bats were completely unproductive. The Millers were limited to two hits in the game. They didn't get their first hit until Mitch Paquin singled in the sixth inning.

The Millers had a chance to get an early lead in the game. Jon Will led off the game with a walk and he moved to third on two passed balls. But the next three Miller batters all struck out, stranding Will on third base. The Millers didn't get another baserunner until Paquin's single in the sixth inning.

River Falls was able to score single runs in the first, fifth and seventh innings against Zimmerman.

Pitching the final two innings of Sunday's game for the Millers was T.J. Wink, who had been released earlier in the week by the St. Paul Saints. Wink had pitched three games with the minor league team in the independent American Association. When the Saints had pitchers come back from injuries, there was no longer room for Wink on their roster. Wink went 1-1 in his time with the Saints.

Stephens said his plan is to have Zimmerman and Wink combine their efforts in the two upcoming games against Osceola. He plans to have Zimmerman start, with Wink scheduled to take over when Zimmerman runs out of energy.

Stephens said the 12 days off is perfectly timed for the team. They can take the Fourth of July week off from baseball and then they can come back refreshed for the season's stretch run.