VICTORIA, B.C. – Despite an offensively-charged opening game to their series on Tuesday night, at the start of game two between the Yakima Valley Pippins and Victoria HarbourCats all eyes were glued to the pitcher’s mound, and rightfully so, as Claire Eccles (University of British Columbia) became the first woman to start a West Coast League game. After Eccles’ exit in the second inning, however, the scene drifted to the offensive firepower of both teams. In the first game of the series, the Pippins produced 15 hits en route to a 12-6 victory. Yakima Valley produced an encore performance in game two, except this time, Victoria matched and then some, as they overcame two home runs from the Pippins’ Lucas Denney (Seattle U) to power their way to a 13-10 home victory to even the series and force a rubber game tomorrow night.
For the second night in a row, the Pippins (15-17, 2-3) scored in the first inning, as they plated two runs on two hits, including a Denney bunt single to bring in Jonny DeLuca (Oregon), and a Dustin Yates (Washington State) single which brought in Tora Otsuka (San Diego) to give the Pippins a 2-0 lead. The HarbourCats (20-16, 6-3) came right back in the bottom of the frame, however, as Pippins’ starter, John Fuqua (Virginia Military Institute) walked the first two batters he faced, leading to three Victoria runs, without even needing a hit.
Eccles settled down with a scoreless top of the second inning which included her striking out Otsuka, on her main pitch, a knuckeball, to record her first strikeout in WCL play. The Victoria offense gave her more run support by scoring two more off Fuqua in the second inning to take a 5-2 lead to the third, but Eccles could not record an out in the frame, and her start came to a close after two inning of work, having thrown 46 pitches, only 22 of which for strikes.
After Eccles’ exit, the Pippins plated two runs, in the top of the third. After Bradlee Beesley (Cal Poly-SLO) had doubled and Denney had singled off of Eccles, Daniel Cope (Cal State Fullerton) drew a walk, which included a wild pitch in the at-bat to score Beesley, before Yates ripped a single through the left side to score Denney and cut the deficit to 5-4.
In the top of the fourth, the Pippins were at it again, as DeLuca tripled in Mitch Ellis (Western Illinois) to tie the game. After an Otsuka single plated DeLuca to give the Pippins a 6-5 lead, Denney wasted no time stretching the lead, as he hit a two-run home run over the right field fence off Victoria reliever, Blake Hannah (UC Davis), to give the Pippins a four-run fourth and an 8-5 lead.
After the Pippins had produced six unanswered runs, Victoria stormed right back with a three run bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 8. Then in the fifth, the HarbourCats plated another pair of runs to take a 10-8 lead. In the sixth, the Pippins managed to cut the deficit in half as Otsuka singled in Tyler Bosetti (Nevada) who walked to begin the frame. Once again, however, Victoria answered the bell with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning to stretch the lead back to two at 11-9.
With the Pippins trailing by two, Denney stepped in to leadoff the seventh, and promptly, drilled his second home run of the night to straightaway center field to cut the deficit back to one at 11-10. Soon after, the Pippins seemed destined to retake the lead, as they loaded the bases with two outs for DeLuca. The Pippins’ leadoff man struck out on three pitches, however, to keep the score 11-10 in favor of Victoria.
After the HarbourCats added two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eight, their bullpen did the rest, silencing the Pippins’ bats in the eight and ninth to hold on for the 13-10 victory and even the series.
Game Notes: Fuqua started and lasted just three innings for the Pippins, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits, while walking three with a single strikeout. He did not factor into the decision, however, as the offense erupted and took the lead following his departure. Kyle Nicol (Cal State Northridge) pitched the fourth and fifth innings for the Pippins and took the loss, as Victoria took a 10-8 lead in his time on the mound. He fell to 0-2. Yates threw three innings and allowing three runs (two earned) with a pair of strikeouts and a walk.
Eccles, a Surrey, B.C. native, who became the first woman to start a WCL game, lasted just two innings and could not record an out in the third inning, as she loaded the bases before leaving the game. Eccles did not factor into the decision, allowing six hits and four runs (two earned) while recording her first strikeout in WCL play on Otsuka in the second. Interestingly, Eccles is not the first female pitcher to throw for a men’s team at Royal Athletic Park. Eri Yoshida, known as the “Knuckeball Princess,” started for the Chico Outlaws in a loss to the Victoria Seals at RAP in a Professional Golden Baseball Independent League game in 2010. Eccles, who will be a sophomore at the University of British Columbia in the fall, plays on the Thunderbirds’ softball team, which competes at the NAIA level, and has long been part of the Canadian Women’s National Baseball Team.
Noah Prewett (San Diego), one of six Victoria relievers on the night earned the win to improve to 2-0. Prewett also earned the win on June 4 when the two teams matchup, a game that, coincidently, Fuqua also started. Travis Kuhn (San Diego) picked up his seventh save to extend his WCL lead by throwing a scoreless ninth.
Denney’s two home runs give him five for the season, the most on Yakima Valley, surpassing Beesley’s four long balls. The multi-home run game is the first for a Pippins batter since Vince Fernandez hit two home runs on August 9, 2014 against Wenatchee. Fernandez went on to win the WCL MVP Award after leading the league with ten home runs in the Pippins’ inaugural season. Denney also recorded a four hit night, the second by a Pippins’ player this year, matching Dillon Plew (Washington State), who tallied four hits on June 28 against Bend.
What It Means: With the win, Victoria is now back atop the WCL North in the second half with a one game lead over Wenatchee. With the loss, the Pippins are back to two below .500 overall and are still three games back of the first place Corvallis Knights in the WCL South. However, the Pippins are now in a three way tie for overall second-best record in the WCL South, an important note considering that if Corvallis wins both the first and second half, the next best overall record clinches a playoff berth. The Pippins have three more games remaining with the two teams they will likely be neck and neck with over the course of the second half in the Bend Elks and the Cowlitz Black Bears.
What’s Next: The rubber game is Thursday night. Right-hander, Taylor Dollard (Cal Poly-SLO, 3-0, 2.79 ERA), is set to make his second WCL start for the Pippins against Victoria’s left-hander, Jack Owen (Auburn, 3-0, 1.07 ERA), who has been dominant in the early going, striking out 27 and walking just six over the course of his first four starts. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. from Royal Athletic Park.