The Harlem High School girls softball team took its season as far as it could go Saturday.
On high school’s largest stage, the Lady Bulldogs fell just short of the ultimate prize and their final goal, losing 7-0 to the Calhoun Lady Yellow Jackets in the Georgia High School Association Class AA state softball championship game.
While he wished they could have finished as state champs, Harlem coach Mike Leverett wasn’t complaining about the end result of finishing as runners-up.
“We won 32 games this year, it was a good run and I’m proud of them,” said Leverett, whose squad finished the year 32-8.
Calhoun (33-6) was the lone team to beat the Lady Bulldogs in the three-day, double-elimination tournament, dropping them into the loser’s bracket on Thursday, forcing them to fight their way to the championship game the hard way.
And it wasn’t easy against other top teams in the state including a Heard County team that was ranked No. 1 in the state entering the tournament. With just three seniors on its roster and facing adversity, the young Harlem team had to battle to earn the chance to face Calhoun once and potentially twice more.
Leverett always said that having sophomore pitcher Amber Garrett on the mound gave them a chance to win, but her bat played a key role in helping the team move through the bracket.
In the team’s first game of the tournament, Garrett hit the game-winning single while pitching a no-hitter against Bremen, but then really stepped up Friday and Saturday.
Friday night, trailing Cook County 5-4 in the top of the seventh with two outs, Garrett’s third hit of the night started a string of consecutive hits from freshman Cassie Blizzard, sophomore Bailey Sheppard, and senior Christian Mullis that plated two runs. Garrett retired the side in the bottom half for the 6-5 win.
Saturday morning they beat Berrien 4-3 in eight innings under international tie-breaker rules. Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Garrett singled home junior Ashley Lunz from second and senior Lindsey Stokes scored on a throwing error on the play for the winning run.
Against Heard County, with Calhoun looming, the Lady Bulldogs got all they needed in the first inning after Stokes doubled and Garrett walked. Sheppard singled and drove in Stokes and Garrett’s courtesy runner Lunz from first base.
Heard County (28-6) had its chances throughout the game, but Garrett scattered seven hits and stranded 12 runners. Garrett, who finished with a 26-7 record, was the pitcher of record throughout the tournament.
After committing five errors against Calhoun in the teams’ first meeting, the Lady Bulldogs committed two in the championship game and couldn’t get anything going offensively.