With the all-important first game in the second round of the Georgia High School Association Class AA State softball playoffs on the line, the Harlem High School Lady Bulldogs’ smallest player got possibly the biggest hit of the year.
Trailing Vidalia 2-1 with two outs and runners on first and second, junior Ashley Lunz singled up the middle to score Emily Aplin, who beat the throw to the plate. In the eighth inning, senior Lindsey Stokes singled home freshman Madison Summers to give the Lady Bulldogs the 3-2 win.
Full of confidence, the Lady Bulldogs (28-6) jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead in the nightcap and went on to the 6-1 win, earning a return trip to Columbus, Ga. for the state’s round of eight.
“Everybody contributed today, I’m so proud of y’all,” Harlem coach Mike Leverett said to his team after the sweep. “The hardest part is getting there (Columbus), now we have a chance.”
The Bulldogs will open play Thursday, facing Bremen at 2:30 p.m.
The second win against Vidalia gave Leverett his 150th career win in his seven years at the school.
Lady Bulldogs sophomore pitcher Amber Garrett (22-5) won both games but had her hands full at times, working out of one bases-loaded jam in the first game and two in the second, allowing just one run in those situations. She gave up the two Game-1 runs on five hits, striking out nine and walking four, then stranded 12 Lady Indians in Game 2 as she struck out six and walked five.
“Amber wasn’t on, but she was a fighter tonight,” said Leverett.
After Stokes, who had three hits in the first game, scored on an error in the bottom of the fourth, Lady Indians (19-11) shortstop Brenan Merritt hit a game-tying home run in the top of the fifth. Merritt then doubled home a run in the top of the seventh as the Lady Indians went up 2-1.
Leading off their half of the seventh, Harlem’s Bailey Sheppard singled and Christian Mullis sacrificed her to second. Sheppard went to third on Aplin’s single, but was thrown out at home on a comebacker to the pitcher. That brought Lunz to the plate. Leverett had pinch-hit for her in similar situations but liked the way she had been swinging the bat. Lunz just wanted to do her part.
“I was trying to do my job for the team, I was so glad I was able to get on base,” Lunz said. Under international tie-breaker rules, a runner – Summers – was placed on second to begin the Lady Bulldogs’ eighth. Stokes failed to get a bunt down twice, then hit a long single to the fence scoring Summers as the Lady Bulldogs ran jubilantly onto the field.
Playing her last games at Harlem brought out different emotions in Stokes.
“It’s bittersweet,” Stokes said. “I love going to Columbus and I wouldn’t want anything else, but this place is home, it always has been and it’s going to be hard to leave.”
Stokes had three hits in the first game then was walked three times in the second. Summers had three hits in the nightcap while Garrett had two.
Summers said she didn’t know what to expect in the double-elimination tournament in Columbus, but she knew what she was feeling after the games.
“I’m super happy,” she said.