As Harlem and Thomson battled for the Region 3N-AAA regular-season title Thursday, a standing-room-only crowd came out to support both Bulldog teams.
Among the Harlem faithful, two former Bulldogs also watched. At Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis' invitation, Bruce Lampkin and Anthony Brown were in attendance to see Harlem complete a 10-0 stomping of Thomson.
After the game, Lampkin and Brown, members of Harlem's 1986 state championship team, were invited onto the field to celebrate.
"I wanted my crowd to see some state championship people," Lewis said.
While a state championship is a long way down the road, the possibility became more of a reality for Harlem this past weekend. The Bulldogs clinched a Class AAA state tournament bid and claimed a Region 3N-AAA regular season title with four region wins this past week.
The win over Thomson highlighted the week and came much easier than Lewis expected. The home Bulldogs jumped on top of the visiting Bulldogs early.
"When we went up five runs I knew that was a good sign," Lewis said. "That was big to take the lead in the first inning like that."
Those five runs came as Harlem sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning. After walking two of Harlem's first three batters, Thomson pitcher Evan Howard gave up a two-RBI double to Eric Schnitzler. Harlem pitcher Mike Sanders gave himself a boost with a two-RBI hit four batters later on a grounder that slid just under the glove of Thomson third baseman Drew Usry.
Harlem left the bases loaded in the first, but not before taking a commanding 5-0 lead. The advantage on the scoreboard was just what Sanders needed to calm his nerves.
I was a little nervous, but I told myself it was just another game to play," he said. "(The five run lead) definitely helped. You still can't relax, but you can settle down a little more."
Sanders settled down and threw a complete-game shutout for his fifth region win of the year in five innings of work.
The Harlem bats erupted again in the final inning for five more runs to force the mercy rule on its region rival.
Harlem's Wesley Morris started the inning with a solo home run.
Six of the next seven Harlem batters reached base safely, including senior Evan Slagle whose RBI single plated catcher Alex Hintz to end the game.
The win, Harlem's 12th of the season, marked a long comeback for the Bulldogs. The season looked hopeless after Harlem started the year 0-4 with blowout losses to Greenbrier, Evans, Lakeside and Westside.
"Since that 40-2 shellacking at the beginning of the year we've come a long way," Lewis said after Thursday's win. "We knew if we kept winning we'd be in the state playoffs. These boys didn't give up. They're a pleasure to work with."
Harlem will begin the GHSA Class AAA state tournament next weekend.
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