Eccles Gets Win, HarbourCats Bats Come Alive in Double-Header Sweep of Kitsap

Victoria’s Clair Eccles went three full innings in her first start of the season Sunday, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and earning her first win, an 11-2 decision over the Kitsap BlueJackets (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart

June 18, 2017, Victoria, BC – Claire Eccles got her first win and the Victoria HarbourCats offence clubbed out a grand total of 20 hits, including a game-winning, walk-off single from Ethan Lopez in game two, as the ‘Cats swept the Kitsap Blue Jackets Sunday by scores of  11-2 and 5-4 in West Coast League (WCL) exhibition double-header action at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.

Victoria pitcher Claire Eccles delivers a pitch to the plate during the first inning of her first start of the season against Kitsap Sunday. Eccles would pitch three full innings and be credited with the eventual 11-2 Victoria win (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Eccles, the first woman to play in the WCL, made league history on Wednesday June 7 with her first appearance in a league game and she made it again on Sunday with her first start in game one of the double header, in front of a great crowd of 2,373 souls who braved overcast skies to come to the ballpark and cheer her on.

Victoria shortstop Harry Shipley is proving to be rock solid at that position, here turning a double play against Kitsap in game one Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Eccles started game one on a great note, working through two scoreless innings and keeping the Kitsap hitters at bay with her baffling knuckleball and off-speed pitches.  She also earned her first strikeout of the year, getting Kitsap’s Trace Eldridge to begin the second inning.

Victoria’s Andrew Vaughn had a 4-hit day Sunday in game one and will now leave the team on a high note to join the USA National team (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Kitsap would get to Eccles in the third for a pair of runs, but the composed left-hander worked her way out of trouble a few times to escape with minimal damage.

Victoria’s Tucker Johnson gives his “cat paw” a lick after hitting an RBI-double in game one Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

In the meantime, the HarbourCats offence, after being swept in Walla Walla this past week and scoring just single runs in two of those games, finally came to life, scoring five in the second inning and another two in the third to give Eccles a 7-2 lead when she departed the game.

Kitsap baserunner Zach Spradlin (left) gets tagged in an awkward spot by Victoria second baseman Tucker Johnson (left) during this steal attempt in the fourth inning of game one Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

The HarbourCats big five-run second came thanks to an RBI-single from Bryce Bonner that scored Riley Zayicek, a sac fly from Harry Shipley that scored Jake Garella, an RBI double from Tucker Johnson to score Bonner and a two-RBI double from Andrew Vaughn to score Johnson and Riley Guntrip.

Victoria shortstop Cole Weiss turns a tough double play late in game one Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Another run in the fifth and three more in the sixth put the game well out of reach for Kitsap, as HarbourCats relievers Jack Tagget, Indigo Diaz and Chavez Fernander kept the Blue Jackets scoreless from the third inning on.

Victoria’s fourteen-hit attack was led by Vaughn who finished with a four-hit day and two RBIs. Jake Garella and Bryce Bonner also had two hits each, while Bonner and Harry Shipley chipped in a pair of RBIs each.

In Game 2, the HarbourCats were limited to just six hits in total thanks to some fine work by Kitsap starter Sam Mundt, who allowed three runs on four hits through his six innings of work.

Victoria’s Matt Kent got the start in game two Sunday and pitched well, going five full innings and giving up one run on one hit while striking out five (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

It was the sixth HarbourCat hit of the day however, a single down the first baseline by Ethan Lopez off Kitsap reliever Brandon Massen in the bottom of the seventh, that was the biggest of the game, as it scored Connor Whitney to give the HarbourCats a walk-off 5-4 win over the BlueJackets.

Starting pitcher Matt Kent and the HarbourCats had taken a 3-1 lead into the top of the seventh inning only to see the scrappy BlueJackets score three off reliever Blake Hannah, a 2016 returnee, to go ahead 4-3.

Victoria’s second baseman Cole Weiss turns a double play in the fourth inning of game two on Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

The HarbourCats would then mount the comeback when Harry Shipley was hit by a Massen pitch to start the inning.  A throwing error by the catcher on a pick-off attempt would  move Shipley to second and Whitney would then move him to third on a bunt single, with Shipley then scoring and Whitney advancing to second on an error by the third baseman.

KItsap Shortstop Trace Eldridge has trouble coming up with the ball as Victoria’s Will LaRue slides safely into second base on this steal attempt late in game two. La Rue was injured on the play and had to leave the game (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Kekai Rios would then move Whitney to third on a sacrifice bunt, setting up Lopez’s heroics and giving the ‘Cats the walk-off win.

Shipley, who is settling in nicely for the HarbourCats in the lead-off position, led the game two offence with a pair of hits and three runs scored.  Whitney, Rios, Lopez and Jake Garella had the other HarbourCats hits.  Blake Hannah gets the win in relief, while Massen takes the loss.

2016 HarbourCat Blake Hannah made his return to Victoria on Sunday and earned the win in the 5-4 decision over KItsap in game two (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

The HarbourCats now return to regular West Coast League action and the start of a seven game home-stand when they face the Port Angeles Lefties in a 12 Noon matinee game on Monday, a special School Spirit Game that will see 2,000 elementary school students fill the seats to cheer on the ‘Cats.

After hitting the game winning single past a dejected Kitsap first baseman Isaac Wersland (background), Victoria’s Ethan Lopez (left) awaits the obligatory water bottle shower from Cole Weiss (right) and the rest of the HarbourCats following the walk-off 5-4 win in game two Sunday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

They then welcome the Corvallis Knights to Victoria for the first time in three years on Tuesday for a three game set (all games a 6:35 pm start) and then they will look for payback on the Walla Walla Sweets who come to town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the HarbourCats first full weekend series of the year. Friday and Saturday games are 6:35 pm starts, while Sunday’s game goes at 1:05 PM.

Cat Scratches:  The HarbourCats debuted their new red third jerseys for Sunday’s double-header.  The HarbourCats welcomed Blake Hannah, Nick Bellafronto and Davis Wendzel to town on Sunday.  Leaving the team is Ethan Fox, who is heading to the Okotoks Dawgs in Alberta.  Will LaRue looked to injure his arm or shoulder in a slide into second base late in game two Sunday and had to leave the game. His status is unknown.

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