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New Richmond Millers win St. Croix Valley League opener

A strong pitching performance from Hayden Zimmerman and timely hitting carried the New Richmond Millers to a 5-4 win over the Spring Valley Hawks in the opening game of 2013 St. Croix Valley League play.

The game was played Saturday night under blustery conditions at New Richmond's Citizens Field.

The Millers also played at home the previous evening in a non-league game against the Spooner Cardinals. Because the Millers had so few opportunities to practice this spring, this game was used as a glorified practice, with the Millers losing 13-7.

Spring Valley has traditionally been New Richmond's opening opponent in SCVL adult baseball action. Both teams showed their rust in the early stages, with the teams combining for two hits, both by the Millers, in the first five innings of action.

The Millers' offense began to show signs of life in the sixth inning. Mitch Paquin led off with a walk and Sean Conrad singled. They both scored on Jon Will's double down the rightfield line. Will would score on a single by Scott Emerson and Emerson scored on a single from Zimmerman.

Zimmerman overpowered the tentative Spring Valley hitters. He struck out 11 batters in seven innings, with five Spring Valley batters taking called third strikes.

The only hit Spring Valley could manage off Zimmerman was a chopper off the plate that resulted in an infield hit in the seventh inning.

Conrad came on to pitch in the eighth inning and had trouble finding his arm slot. He walked the bases loaded before Spring Valley added several hits, tying the game at 4-4.

Conrad bounced back to retire the Hawks without a baserunner in the ninth and 10th innings.

Emerson and Zimmerman started the bottom of the 10th inning with walks. Emerson then stole third base. Millers' manager Ryan Stephens followed with a roller down the first base line. With Emerson's speed, he was able to score without drawing a throw to the plate.

Will and Emerson led the offense with two hits each and Stephens reached base four times.

Stephens said he's confident that the Millers can return to the state playoffs after getting there last season.

"The offense is there, the right people are there," Stephens said. "We've got the old team back."

Friday's game was more of a rust removal process for the Millers. Five players took their turns pitching. Josh Leavens started, followed by Paquin, Will, Jacob Johnson and Stephens. The Millers fell behind 8-0 in the first four innings, before showing signs of life later in the game. The pitchers struggled with walks and the defense made several errors you wouldn't normally see.

"It was just getting our feet under us," Stephens said. "Half the team hadn't been at a practice yet. Schedule-wise and weather-wise we couldn't get anything put together."

The schedule hits full speed for the Millers with four games in the upcoming weekend. That starts with home games on Friday and Saturday. They host Cottage Grove, Minn., at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (now cancelled) and Eau Claire at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Millers have SCVL road games scheduled for Sunday at Wednesday. They play at Prescott on 1 p.m. on Sunday and at Menomonie at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.