The season ended for the New Richmond Millers on Friday, but the optimism built in the final weeks of the season will carry over into the 2020 season.

The Millers lost 5-0 to the Spooner Cardinals in the opening round of the Wisconsin Baseball Association state playoffs on Friday night, in the quarterfinal bracket being played in Spooner.

The Millers finished the season with a 12-15-1 record. They finished 9-9 in the St. Croix Valley Baseball League, and by winning their final five SCVBL games, became playoff eligible.

Heading into Friday’s game, the Millers knew they were the underdogs, facing a Spooner team that won the Independent League championship with an 11-1 record.

New Richmond threw Dante LaDuke and the lefthander proved that he was capable of handling the pressure of a state playoff game. Spooner led the game 1-0 after six innings. Both pitchers faced some threats during the game, but both were able to pitch out of them. LaDuke came up with several clutch strikeouts to get out of jams.

Spooner took a firm grip on the lead by scoring four times in the seventh inning. A couple Spooner hits were compounded by a mishandled bunt in the Spooner rally.

The Millers did have their chances. They had runners in scoring position in the second and third innings and they loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning. They had another threat in the eighth inning.

“We put the hits up, we just couldn’t get anything brewing,” said Millers manager Ryan Stephens. “We had our chances.”

Nearly every player in the Millers’ lineup had a hit, but nobody had more than one.

Stephens said, in retrospect, he wished he had scheduled a game in the two weeks between the regular season finale and the start of the playoffs.

Stephens said the late season charge helped the team to recognize that is maturing into a team that can be a yearly force in the SCVBL.

“That’s the key thing. The guys are getting pumped that we’re getting better,” he said.

Stephens also announced the Millers’ team awards for the season.

Most Valuable Player went to Caleb Manecke. He led the team in numerous offensive categories including hits (33), runs (23), RBI (25) and homers (4). He finished with a .337 batting average.

LaDuke won the Most Valuable Pitcher honors. He led the team with 61 innings worked and 48 strikeouts. His 3.21 earned run average was the best among the team’s starting pitchers.

Jon Will led the Millers with a .386 batting average.

The Most Improved Player Award was shared between Noah Towberman and John Earley. Towberman became one of the most reliable sticks in the batting order, finishing with a .267 average. He ranked second on the team with 27 hits. Earley broke through a slump at the start of the season, finishing with a .263 average. His 14 RBI ranked third on the team.