Don't let the record fool you. The Harlem High School softball team is picking up steam, and the Lady Dogs are in position to capture a third straight Region 3-AAA championship.
"Things are going well," said second-year coach Melissa Chase, who isn't bothered by her team's 8-9 overall record. Chase prefers to look at the bright side - an 8-1 mark in region play.
"My expectation level was a little lower this year, but don't get me wrong - we still want to win the region, and the players know they have the ability to do it."
Harlem was the class of Region 3-AAA in 2002, but losing several starters to graduation put the prospects of a region three-peat in doubt.
"This year we had to replace and rebuild," Chase said. "We have young girls playing new positions, and we have seven girls that didn't play varsity last year."
Harlem's Sarah Harrington pitched against Josey on Tuesday afternoon.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Although experience is lacking, Harlem's fastpitch tradition isn't fading this season.
Tuesday's game with Jefferson County could shake up the standings in Region 3-AAA. With a win in the 5 p.m. contest at Harlem, the Lady Dogs would tie the Lady Warriors for first place in the region with two region games remaining.
If Jefferson and Harlem finish with identical region records, the teams would square off in a playoff game to decide the 3-AAA championship.
Harlem has only three seniors this season - Brandy Braswell, Allison Cawley and Sarah Harrington - but they have provided leadership and solid play.
"I'm lucky to have those three as leaders," Chase said. "They have to keep everyone focused and on top of things."
Braswell is leading the Lady Dogs in hitting (.442) and the third baseman is one of Harlem's best defensive players, while Harrington handles most of the pitching duties and adds a spark with her competitive nature. Cawley anchors the infield at shortstop, and provides motivation by encouraging her teammates on and off the field.
Amber Klein is playing a big role for Harlem this season. The junior is batting over .400, and the honorable-mention all-state catcher keeps getting better behind the plate.
Harlem's Brandy Braswell is one of only three seniors on the 2003 team.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"If runners get on base and try to steal, Amber is going to throw them out," Chase said. "She's almost automatic."
Grabbing another region title in a rebuilding year is far from automatic, but Harlem is in the hunt - that'w why Chase isn't concerned about overall win-loss records.
"It's good to be realistic, but we can still do it," Chase said. "Some of the players were unsure of themselves early in the season, but they're starting to gain confidence. The girls are learning faster than I thought they would."
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