After another banner year for the Harlem High softball team in 2013, they have one more hurdle left to clear.
The Lady Bulldogs won their second consecutive Region 3-AA championship and finished as the Georgia High School Association Class AA State runners-up with a 32-8 record.
After a scrimmage at Westside on Wednesday, the Lady Bulldogs will begin to answer questions about the current squad when they kick off their county schedule at their annual Chick-fil-A Tournament at Patriots Park on Friday.
“I’m excited, it’s been a long summer,” said coach Mike Leverett.
The Lady Bulldogs lose just three seniors, but have to replace third baseman Lindsey Stokes, who was the two-time Region 3-AA Player of the Year.
“I don’t expect people to do what Lindsey does, I expect them to get better,” Leverett said.
Helping the Lady Bulldogs’ cause is the return of junior pitcher Amber Garrett, the Region 3-AA Pitcher of the Year her freshman and sophomore seasons. After a 16-4 freshman year, Garrett was 26-7 with 11 shutouts in 22 complete games in 2013 with 224 strikeouts and a 1.55 earned-run-average.
Leverett said the team always has a chance with Garrett on the mound, but will look to reduce her workload in 2014 with sophomore Lillie Streets.
“She was there last year but she really pitched a lot this summer,” said Leverett. “She got stronger and that’s really going to help Amber so she doesn’t have to throw that much.”
The Lady Bulldogs also lost Stokes’ team-best five home runs and 42 RBI. Leverett expects the team to be quicker than the team that stole 67 bases in 70 attempts, led by sophomore Madison Summers, who stole 17 in 18 tries. Summers was the Lady Bulldogs’ lead-off batter a year ago and Leverett expects her to fill the role again. Aat the top of the lineup is Ashley Lunz, returning for her senior season after stealing 12 bases in 13 attempts and impressing in the off-season.
“Ashley Lunz has really swung the bat well this summer, too,” Leverett said. “She’s going to be a big impact for us, too.”
While rattling off a list of names of those he expects big things from, he said he would rather see them all take a time in the spotlight.
“What I’m hoping is it will be a team effort,” Leverett said. “Somebody shine this week, somebody shine next week. It’s hard for other teams to coach against that.”
And he expects the realigned region to be tougher with the inclusion of Jefferson County, Metter and Swainsboro. Not that it’s a bad thing, necessarily.
“You want a tough region,” Leverett said. “You want to be able to play a tough region so when the state playoffs start, you’ve been going against good pitching.”