The River Falls Fighting Fish are defending champions of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League.

On Friday, the New Richmond Millers nearly tackled the Fish. The Millers battled to the final out, losing 4-3. The Millers are now 1-3 in the SCVBL, but all three losses have come in close decisions against teams that were state playoff qualifiers last season.

The Millers are one of the younger teams in the SCVBL and they again showed why there is plenty of optimism surrounding the team.

River Falls scored three runs in the fourth inning. The Millers were silenced through the first five innings by former Millers pitcher T.J. Wink, who is now the ace of the Fighting Fish staff. In the sixth, the Millers finally broke through. Noah Towbman led off the sixth with a single and he scored on a double by Jaryd Marks. Blake Kretovics then singled, and Marks scored when Caleb Manecke hit into a fielder’s choice.

The Fish got their final run in the top of the eighth inning. The Millers matched that run in the bottom of the inning. Jake Jirik and Towberman started the inning with singles. Jirik scored when Marks laced his second double of the night into the leftfield corner. This was a golden opportunity, but two strikeouts and a pop fly back to the pitcher left the Millers one run short.

The Millers continued to battle in the ninth inning. After the first two Millers were retired, Jirik singled on an 0-2 pitch, then Towberman came through with his fourth hit of the evening. Marks was the Millers’ last hope. He battled, fouling off several pitches before being retired on a liner to leftfield.

“It was an awesome fight,” Millers manager Ryan Stephens said of the final at-bat.

Coleman Roskam started on the mound for the Millers, with Dante LaDuke and Marks pitching capably in relief.

Stephens said the pitching staff is being more productive than last season, “and our offense is just starting to peak.”

The Millers are also adding players from the recently completed New Richmond High School season. Brandon Gaspord and Reece Lucas made their debuts for the Millers Friday, with Gaspord collecting his first hit.

Lucas will get his chance to show his pitching ability on Saturday. He’ll get the start when the Millers play a non-league game at Anoka at 7 p.m.

Stephens said the Millers are also hoping to add Ryan Kling and Jack Bau from the high school team. The next home game for the Millers will be on Wednesday, when they host East Bethel at 7:30 p.m. at Citizens Field.