In the middle of the Harlem baseball team's rise to the top of its subregion, Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis had exhausted almost every option looking for a solid pitching rotation.
In last weekend's 2-1 series win over Peach County in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament, Lewis went a different route.
He dropped the rotation and instead used junior ace Mike Sanders for two out of the three games.
"I just wanted to win," Sanders said. "Coach thought I was the man for the job. My arm's a little tender, but it's OK."
Sanders pitched a complete game Friday in the Bulldogs' 14-1 win in game one but threw only 63 pitches. After a 6-4 Harlem loss in the second game, Lewis said, he was left with little choice. Senior Rodney Scruggs, the other pitching option, twisted his ankle Friday night.
"We didn't want to mess up his arm. Winning ain't worth losing a kid's arm," Lewis said of Sanders' two wins in two days. "We were watching his pitch count close. We were really pleased with his performance."
Sanders took the mound again Saturday and Harlem began the game trailing 3-1 after the first inning. Bulldog Kyle Knight came to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning down 3-2 and knocked in the tying run. A balk on the next batter gave Harlem the lead.
One inning later, the floodgates opened as the Bulldogs plated nine runs in the sixth inning to claim the series via the mercy rule with a 13-3 win.
Harlem senior Toree Scott led the offensive explosion with a two-RBI double with the bases loaded. Scott drove in eight RBI in the three-game series.
"When we play good defense and hit the ball we'll win," Sanders said. "We want to prove somebody wrong. We want a state championship."
The Bulldogs' road to a state championship will stay in Harlem for at least the second round with a home series against Troup starting Wednesday. Troup, the four seed from Region 2-AAA, upset No. 1 seed Worth County in a two-game sweep.
"We're playing Troup, and that's no surprise," Lewis said. "That's the best baseball region in the state."
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