Two of the more dynamic and memorable players from the fifth season of Victoria HarbourCats baseball are returning for another season.

Left-handed pitcher Claire Eccles, who became the first female to play in the West Coast League, and switch-hitting versatile outfielder Ethan Lopez have signed to play in Victoria for the 2018 campaign. Eccles, the ace of the Canadian women’s national team, and Lopez, a junior at the University of Hawaii, were both fan favourites and key parts that helped the team bond so closely and go on a run that nearly culminated in the HarbourCats’ first league championship, losing in Game 3 of the WCL final to the Corvallis Knights.

“A lot of people around the world learned about the West Coast League, the Victoria HarbourCats, and the level of baseball we play, because of the interest in Claire and what she accomplished in the summer of 2017 – it was a move that turned many heads, and brought in female fans of all ages,” said Jim Swanson of the HarbourCats. “There were some people who thought we were nuts, too – and Claire proved them wrong. She handled things so well both on and off the field, with the support of great teammates, who had her back at every turn, even when coaches and players on other teams would snicker or make remarks.

“Claire’s signing was international news when we announced it in May. We know she’s excited to get another chance to prove she can compete at this level, and help us win.”

Eccles pitched in eight games, including two starts, and earned her first WCL win on June 29 against the Cowlitz Black Bears. She struck out three, walked seven, allowed 19 hits and had an 11.91 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched, with five earned runs in one-third of an inning of a July 7 game skewing that statistic (6.55 ERA without that game, which included a grand slam). Aside from her debut June 7 against Wenatchee, her most memorable moment might have been the three-up/three-down extra inning outing, with one strikeout, in a late-season home game against Kelowna. For trivia buffs, her first WCL strikeout was Yakima outfielder Tora Otsuka, who attends the University of San Diego.

Lopez, from Whittier, CA, played in 30 games and batted .216 with 11 RBIs and four stolen bases, providing plus-plus outfield defence. His enthusiastic personality – he became known as the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” for some of his catches — made him a team leader for Head Coach Brian McRae’s team.

“Ethan was just getting warmed up for us when he had to leave for a period, but returned for the playoffs and really energized us,” said Swanson. “He had a crucial hit for us in that epic Game 1 that allowed us to have a chance in the late innings. His reads in the outfield, fearless going to the wall, was contagious. Ethan can also play almost anywhere in the infield, so he’s a valuable piece for B-Mac.”

LHP CLAIRE ECCLES, 5-8/140, Junior, University of British Columbia – From White Rock, BC, on a softball scholarship at UBC, where she’s a hitter/outfielder. Ace of Team Canada’s staff for Head Coach Andre Lachance.

OF ETHAN LOPEZ, 6-0/200, Junior, University of Hawaii – “E-Lo” is a product of La Mirada High School, part of multiple championships prior to heading to Manoa. Can play second, third or any OF spot.

Roster to date – 14 players – C Tanner Rempel; IF/OF Jaxxon Fagg; IF/P Jedd Fagg; IF/OF Jason Willow; OF Hunter Vansau; OF Ethan Lopez; OF/P Trevin Reynolds; LHPs Ethan Fox, Claire Eccles; RHPs Wyatt Boone, Garrett Goodall, Garrett Ritter, Luke Manuel, Lawson Humphries.