One highly successful, and somewhat quirky, weekend has put the New Richmond Millers back in the thick of the St. Croix Valley Baseball League race.
Wins against Prescott on Saturday and Elmwood on Sunday raised the Millers’ league record to 3-3. The only team with fewer losses in the league is River Falls. Menomonie, Prescott, Plum City, and Hudson all join the Millers with three losses in a closely packed race.
The Millers are done with their non-conference schedule. All their remaining games are against SCVBL opponents. This weekend they face a pair of home games. They’ll be host to Prescott on Saturday night and to Ellsworth on Sunday.
Sunday’s win at Elmwood ranks as one of the more unconventional wins in Millers history. Elmwood started the game with nine players available. When two of the Expos were tossed from the game for arguing with the umpire, Elmwood was down to seven players and wasn’t allowed to continue. New Richmond was leading 6-3 in the fifth inning when this happened, but the game will go down as a 9-0 forfeit.
Elmwood led early in the game. New Richmond scored once in the first on a single by Jake Jirik and an Elmwood error. The Expos came back with one run in the first and two in the third to lead 3-1. The Millers got out of further trouble when Reece Lucas pitched in relief, inducing a double play to end an Elmwood threat.
The Millers erupted in the fifth inning, and that led to Elmwood’s volcanic reaction. Jack Bau started the inning with a single and he went to third on a sacrifice bunt. Elmwood then tried to throw out Bau on an infield grounder, but he beat the throw. Jon Will then tagged a double, driving home the tying run. The Millers took the lead when Noah Towberman’s sacrifice fly brought home Will.
Caleb Manecke would be the final batter of the game. He crushed a two-run homer. That set off the Elmwood players, sparking the ejections that ended the game.
On Saturday the Millers put together one of their more impressive showings of the season, against a team that has owned them in recent years. Led by sharp pitching from Dante LaDuke, the Millers shut down Prescott, 6-1.
LaDuke pitched the first eight innings, allowing five hits. He struck out seven Pirates, including Prescott’s leadoff hitter three times.
There wasn’t any scoring until the sixth inning. Jirik led off by reaching on an error. Hits from Will and Manecke brought him home. The Millers added another run in the seventh on singles from John Earley and Brock Luehman.
Prescott’s only threat came in the eighth inning. The Pirates scored once and had two runners on base, with their cleanup hitter at the plate. This was an epic at-bat, lasting 13 pitches, before LaDuke got him to ground to first base to end the threat.
The Millers put the game out of reach by scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth. The Millers loaded the bases, then Earley promptly emptied them with a triple. He scored on Jordan Luehman’s triple. It was Earley’s best game for the Millers, finishing with a single, double and triple.
Manecke is the new closer for the Millers and he did the job, pitching a hitless ninth inning.
Millers manager Ryan Stephens said these games were critical for what the team hopes to accomplish this season.
“We had to get back to .500, to ground zero,” Stephens said, saying the offense has become one of the better attacks in the league. “When we get hot, you can not shut us off.”