The Victoria HarbourCats made history on Wednesday night as Claire Eccles became the first female to compete in a West Coast League game.
The 19-year-old left-hander — who hurls pitches with a side-arm delivery and primarily throws knuckleballs — entered the game to Gwen Steffani’s Hollaback Girl in the eighth inning, down 7-0 in an eventual 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee AppleSox.
Her first pitch bounced about three feet in front of home plate and so did the fourth as she walked Dugan Shirer on four straight offerings. It mattered not to the remaining 800 fans in the stands at Royal Athletic Park, who cheered on the UBC softballer, who also pitches for Canada.
“It was pretty surreal. The crowd was great and my teammates were super supportive, so that was a lot of fun,” said a relieved looking Eccles. “I thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t. I was slipping on the mound though so it was hard for me to throw a strike for the first batter.
“It was pretty awesome,” she said of her welcome from the fans. “Honestly, I think it was louder than Pan-Ams when I came out of the bullpen in the final. It was pretty cool.”
And she was obviously glad to get the first appearance out of the way.
“I just wanted to play,” said Eccles. “There was a lot of media, I guess, beforehand. I just wanted to go out and show that I could compete.”
After six straight balls, Eccles eventually got Parker Price to ground a ball right back to her. Evan Johnson followed with a long sacrifice fly ball to centre field to make it 8-0 and Adrian Vela popped out to left to end the inning.
Eccles induced ground balls from Joel Condreay and Alex Gonzales before giving up another run on a single by Jack Machtolf to make it 9-0 in the ninth. Reagan Teegarden then lined out to right field to cap Eccles’ night with two innings pitched, one hit allowed, two runs, one base on balls and one hit batsman as she faced nine hitters. Her ERA is 9.00.
“It was good to get her in a game. I wish the game was more in the balance,” said coach Brian McRae. “I know she was probably nervous and the situation she was in wasn’t ideal. She got in, threw strikes for the most part.
“Obviously, she was nervous early and couldn’t find the strike zone, but after she settled in she threw strikes and made them put the ball in play,” added McRae, whose team stranded 13 runners.
Wenatchee jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two and added three more in the sixth as HarbourCats starter Colin Ashworth struggled out of the gates and took the loss. Adam McKillican replaced him in the fifth before Eccles came in.
Mason Shaw went six and two-thirds scoreless innings for Wenatchee for the win, allowing just six hits. Jalen Garcia surrendered just one hit the rest of the way.