Two-sport star Eccles set to pitch in Japan

Claire Eccles practises with the national team prior to leaving for Japan. - Baseball Canada photo
Claire Eccles practises with the national team prior to leaving for Japan.
— image credit: Baseball Canada photo

South Surrey baseball player Claire Eccles had quite a week.

First, the 16-year-old Peninsula native helped lead Team BC to a bronze medal at the 2014 Senior Women Invitational Championships, which were held in Whalley Aug. 14-18.

Then, after the tournament’s medal ceremony, Eccles was one of two B.C. players – 21-year-old Nikki Boyd of Whalley being the other – who were named to Canada’s national team. The Canadian squad left Friday afternoon for the Women’s Baseball World Cup, which is set to run beginning this weekend in Miyazaki, Japan.

In addition to Eccles and Boyd, other Surrey players on Team BC were Paige McDonnell, Sydney Brown, Katelyn Bedwell, Maryse Garcia and Marina DeAngelis.

Eccles – who also plays softball with the White Rock Renegades ’97 – will, without question, be among the youngest players in the World Cup, if not the youngest, but if her performance in Whalley is any indication, she won’t be overwhelmed by the experience.

At the senior women invitational, Eccles – who pitches and plays in the outfield – finished with two wins, an earned-run average of 0.00 and nine strikeouts in seven and two-thirds of an inning. She was on the mound when B.C. defeated Quebec 1-0 in the third-place tilt.

In the semifinals, B.C. lost 4-3 to Alberta.

Eccles was no slouch at the plate, either, hitting in the No. 2 spot in B.C.’s order. She finished 3-for-6, with a double, triple and four runs-batted-in. She also walked 11 times to lead the tournament, and her .823 on-base percentage was tops among 125 players in the event.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking sometimes – a lot of these girls are 10 years older than me and have played for a long time. I’m usually pretty nervous before (a game) but then I get out there and it’s fine,” said Eccles, from a Guildford-area hotel she was staying at with her national teammates, before heading to the airport.

Eccles said while she was somewhat surprised to make the national team, she “thought she performed pretty well” in Whalley, where national-team brass were scouting for players.

“I was just really excited at first, when I heard I’d made it,” she said. “But then I realized I had to pack really quick and get ready to leave, so it all happened really fast.”

Since taking to the ball diamond as a youngster, Eccles has continued to play both softball and baseball; this past spring she played midget AA baseball for White Rock-South Surrey in addition to suiting up for the Renegades.

And while the basics of both games are generally the same, there are adjustments that need to be made, she said.

“Pitching is different, the size of the fields, the ball… but playing both sports has helped me, I think,” she said.

“I think I’m a better softball player because I’ve played baseball.”

The World Cup runs from Sept. 1-7. In addition to Canada, other teams taking part are the United States, Japan, Australia, Venezuela, Chinese-Taipei, the Netherlands and Hong Kong.

– with files from Rick Kupchuk

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