Last year's squad finished the season third out of 13 teams in Region 3-AAA play with a region record of 13-3. The team's 15-10-2 overall record gave the girls an appearance in the state sectional tournament.
Harlem senior Ashton Leogrande fields a ball during practice while teammates wait for their turn. Harlem will face No. 2 Cross Creek this week..
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Most teams would kill for such a season.
At Harlem, the team was rebuilding.
"They got thrown into the fire last year," head coach Melissa Chase said, almost apologetically. "It was a rebuilding kind of year."
Now midway through the 2005 schedule, Harlem fans are wondering how much better things can get for the Lady Bulldogs.
The squad sits at a tie atop the region with only one loss in the team's first seven region games. They're gunning for more.
"Our No. 1 goal is the Elite Eight (in the state tournament)." Chase said. "No team from Harlem has ever gone that far."
The four-year Harlem coach isn't asking too much. In fact, the way the Lady Bulldogs have been playing has set them on a road straight to the top.
In the team's first seven region games, Harlem has outscored their opponents 63-11. The Lady Bulldog pitching staff has surrendered an average of only 1.7 runs per game, while Harlem's bats have produced double-digit run totals six times.
Still, the team hasn't even broken into the AAA top 10 coaches poll. Many of the Harlem players said they're tired of being overlooked.
"We want the respect we deserve," second baseman Ashton Leogrande said. "It all helps to drive us."
Leogrande is one of three seniors who have been with Chase since she took over the program. The team won the region championship in that first season, but have yet to win the title since then.
On Tuesday, the team could go a long way in reclaiming the regular season region championship.
Harlem will travel to Cross Creek on Tuesday for a showdown between the top two teams in the region. The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Razorbacks have battled all season for first place in the Region 3-AAA standings.
Tuesday's game will establish the best team in the region.
Harlem already has defeated Cross Creek at home this season. The Lady Bulldogs blew away their region rivals 14-2.
"Everything fell into place that game," Chase said. "They have some pretty solid defense and pitching."
With match-ups against Greenbrier and Thomson remaining in regular-season play, the Lady Bulldogs' road to the state playoffs is not quite guaranteed. The Harlem players know what they're up against.
"We know that beating the big dogs is the only way we're going to get respect," shortstop Casey Camp said.
Chase said that in her time at Harlem, this year's team is the one with the best chance to help her wear that state crown.
"I've seen them grow up," she said. "They have really stepped in as leaders."
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