As the Rochester Honkers closed out their 2021 home schedule on Thursday, they found themselves a bit shorthanded.
With some mounting injuries and players heading back to school, the Honkers have added four local players. A trio of those got into action during a 14-4 loss to the La Crosse Loggers on Thursday.
During the final week-plus of the season, Rochester's Logan Milene and T Palmer Mickelson signed contracts with the Honkers as have Dodge Center's Derek Lilledahl and Kaleb Thiesse of Kasson.
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“It’s pretty awesome,” Milene said. “The Northwoods League has been pretty electric the few games that I’ve been at. The pitching’s good, everything’s good.”
Milene was the designated hitter for the Honkers on Thursday. It was his fourth appearance with the team. He went 0-for-3, but was robbed of a hit in the fifth inning when left fielder Kyle Kasper made a sliding catch of a short fly ball.
Milene just completed his freshman season at Des Moines Area Community College this spring.
“It’s cool to come here and play against those guys who are all at very good schools,” Milene said. “It’s also fun to play with them, too. It’s fun to learn what they do and how they do it.”
Thiesse and Lilledahl both saw action in the home finale, with nearly 1,400 fans on hand, as relief pitchers. Playing in the Northwoods League has always been a goal for Thiesse, a right-hander who plays college ball at Division III Luther College in Iowa.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was little,” Thiesse said. “I always went to Honkers games when I was little and even the Loggers games when I was over at my dad’s house (in La Crosse). So it definitely means a lot to me and it’s great to be out there with this great competition.”
Thiesse made his second appearance of the late season and allowed a double and walk after entering in the eighth, but he did not allow a run.
“When you’re going up against these guys, D-I hitters, and throwing strikes and getting guys out as a D-III pitcher, that just says a lot,” Thiesse said. “Just learning from guys in the bullpen and having fun with these teammates has been a pleasure for sure.”
The right-handed Lilledahl, who pitches at Division II Minnesota State, Mankato, did not fare as well. He entered the game in the ninth with the Honkers down 10-4. Lilledahl could have escaped without allowing a run, but an error prolonged the inning. He then allowed four unearned runs and was pulled with two outs and the bases loaded.
Honkers starting pitcher Aaron Vernon has been strong for the team all season with a 3.24 ERA in 50 innings heading into play Thursday. But the right-hander was touched for seven earned runs in five innings.
"Obviously the pitching didn't work," Honkers manager Paul Weidner said of Thursday's contest, which was Fan Appreciation Night at Mayo Field. "But we've got things lined up pretty well for the last two games so that's good."
Weidner said Vernon (1-3, 4.09 ERA) had one of his worst outings of the summer on Thursday "and that happens."
Jacob Slonim and Kevin Sim both hit two-run homers for the Loggers, who pounded out 15 hits, and Adam Arroyo delivered a two-run double to open the scoring in a four-run second.
Zach Meddings went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Honkers while Wyatt Rogers went 2-for-3 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI. Carson Stevens went 2-for-4 with a double and a solo homer in the eighth inning.
Weidner said going forward the Honkers will strive to build a strong roster and maintain their depth.
"Roster construction is really everything," he said. "It's the lifeblood of what you're going to do that summer. Being able to maintain a roster throughout the summer is huge, too. There's luck involved with that, no injuries."
The Honkers close out the 2021 season with games at the Mankato MoonDogs on Friday and Saturday.
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