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Baseball in braids | For the Love of the Game
Stepping onto a baseball field is no small feat for a female, regardless of age or playing level.
That was proven true again recently when a small, religious-affiliated school in Arizona refused to play its state title game because the other team had a female player, choosing instead to forfeit away a chance at a championship.
Interlake and senior pitcher Eleanor Worley are hoping to make their own run at a state baseball championship on Saturday when the 2A tournament begins at Martin Stadium in Bellingham.
They also hope opponents will make the scoreboard the only factor in the result.
Worley first stepped onto a baseball diamond back in second grade and has never looked back. After rising alongside her male peers in the Little League ranks and then biding her time on the Interlake freshman and JV squads, she made the team's travel roster for last year's playoffs and was poised to be a contributor this season before an arm injury stole most of it away.
But after rehabbing the injury all year, Worley's years of dedication were rewarded when she made her first ever varsity start against Juanita in the final home game of her career.
She heard the snickers coming from the opposing dugout, just as they always have. But as she has learned, once the bats go quiet, the mouths always follow.
"It really wasn't any different," Worley said of pitching in a varsity game. "I'm just focused on doing my job out there."
Seven innings later, with a mix of frustrating off-speed stuff and plenty of moxie, Worley became the first female in recent memory to record a win in a prep baseball game in Washington, scattering seven hits and giving up three runs in five innings of work with a pair of strikeouts.
While she blocked out the emotion on the mound, the aftermath of the win certainly included some celebrating. The senior day festivities only added to the enjoyment of accomplishing a lifelong goal of getting a prep varsity win.
Linn said Worley's most prized attribute on the mound is her resiliency, a trait no doubt bolstered by years of quieting doubters of various forms.
It was tested again during the Juanita game, when the Rebels used the tried-and-true tactic of distracting a pitcher by demanding Worley tuck-in her waist-length pigtail to her jersey.
The umpires didn't bite, but even if they had she would have been ready.
"Whenever they do stuff like that, I just kind of laugh," Worley said. "If they want to make a big deal out of it, I will try and take advantage of it."
Linn has already used Worley on the mound during this postseason and has noticed a definite trend as opponents gear-up for an at-bat against Worley.
"Players don't like to face her," he said. "They get frustrated and start pressing. It fits right into her game."
A WIAA official said female players in Washington have in some cases participated on boys teams, though she could not recall any specific examples. Linn added that none of the coaches he has spoken with over his two seasons with Interlake and a Bellevue summer team can remember a female player on a varsity baseball team, let alone one that recorded a win.
Worley mostly deflected the importance of her participation on the team, thinking it second-nature after a childhood spent doing likewise. She said she never considered playing softball and (like the state of Washington) considers it a different sport entirely. Above all Worley just wants to enjoy her time in the game, however long it lasts.
"In the end, it's about doing a job, not who is out there doing it," Worley said. "If someone can play, that is all that matters."
At least, it's all that should.
For the Love of the Game is a Reporter column by sports and recreation reporter Josh Suman. Contact Josh at 425-453-5045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.