Over the past 25 years, Harlem High School has chalked up numerous region championships, five state titles and two second-place state finishes.
But the proud tradition took a beating last season, as the Dogs missed the state playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
That disappointment is now old news, and head baseball coach Jimmie Lewis has his Dogs back in the hunt for a title.
Heading into the first round of the state playoffs at Dublin High School today at 3 p.m., Lewis believes his 2003 squad can play to the same caliber of his championship teams.
"When these guys are playing at their best, they're as good as any time I've ever coached," Lewis said. "If we keep the errors down and our confidence high, we've got a good chance at beating this Dublin team."
Harlem's first-round series opens with a doubleheader today. Game three, if necessary, will be Thursday at 3 p.m.
Harlem head baseball coach Jimmie Lewis talks to his team before practice. Lewis has coached the Bulldogs to five state titles in seven championship appearances.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We've actually got a shot against Dublin," Lewis said. "We've kind of turned the corner. The players are believing that they can win."
The Dogs' confidence was bolstered by a six-game winning streak to end their regular season at 13-9 overall and 8-4 in Region 3-AAA.
That record was accrued over a tough schedule against some of the best baseball teams in the area, including Greenbrier, Evans, Lakeside and Westside. But Lewis says the tough stretch of opponents better prepares his team to face Dublin.
"They're a really good team, but they're not unbeatable," Lewis said. "We can win against this team if we keep playing the way we have been."
Some of Harlem's senior players are thinking along those same lines.
"I think we'll play a lot better than everyone expects," Cody Wilkerson said.
Catcher Chase Richardson agreed. "We just have to keep our errors in check and play good defense. The runs will come if we keep them from scoring," he said.
Harlem will have some company in the playoffs from other Columbia County prep teams. Evans, Greenbrier and Lakeside have qualified for the postseason and will open first-round play this week.
The Knights tied for first place in Region 7-AAAAA, but the numbers fell against Evans, which had to settle for third in the region and will be on the road for a Class AAAAA series against Pope High School.
"We finished third, and that's just the way it works, but we're playing pretty good baseball right now," Evans coach Ricky Beale said. "We're 10-1 since spring break, so we've turned it around. We 're swinging the bats and pitching, and we'll try to continue that in the playoffs."
Evans and Pope begin with a Thursday doubleheader. The third game, if necessary, will be Friday.
Lakeside is a No. 3 seed entering the Class AAAA state playoffs. The Panthers play a doubleheader Thursday at Northgate High School in Newnan. The "if" game would be Friday afternoon.
Greenbrier, meanwhile, won the Region 3-AAAA championship and secured a first-round Class AAAA series at the Brierpatch. The Wolfpack takes on Woodward Academy in a doubleheader Thursday, and the third game would be Friday.
"Being at home is such a big key," Pack coach Ed Williams said. "Any time you win region, it gives you confidence. We won't have to travel, and we're glad for that."
Greenbrier won region last year and rolled over No. 4-seeded Dougherty in a laughable first-round state playoffs series at the Brierpatch, but Woodward is no joke.
"When you play teams from the Atlanta area, they're going to be very good. Woodward split two games with the No. 1 team in their region (Northgate), so this series won't be anything like last year," Williams said. "We're going to take one series at a time. If we don't get out of this one, there won't be a next series for us."
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