It was supposed to be a rebuilding year last season at Harlem High School.
The Bulldog team got hammered in the early part of the season by bigger schools such as Greenbrier, Evans and Lakeside high schools. Jimmie Lewis' team, however, profited from the tougher competition, and the season ended with the Bulldogs in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament.
The word "overachievement" was used quite often.
Lewis said he hopes this season will produce similar, if not better, results.
"I'm hoping we'll be a little better this year," Lewis said. "They've been lifting weights three times a week since the summer."
The Bulldogs lost four seniors from last year's squad but return five starters. Leading the way is senior Mike Sanders, who will serve as the team's No. 1 starter on the mound.
Sanders will benefit from the support behind him.
"We've got our whole infield back, so I'm anticipating being halfway decent," Lewis said. "We've got four seniors and five juniors so we've got to have our sophomore class step up."
With 28 boys at the first week of practice, Lewis said he'll narrow down the team to a manageable size, but he won't have much time to spare. The season begins Monday.
"We've got to put four weeks of work into two," he said. "The state took away our conditioning week. Baseball should have started two or three weeks ago."
While the rest of the Bulldogs team falls in to place, Sanders will be key to a quick start in Harlem.
The senior started out last season as a virtual unknown, but his pitching endurance and success has placed him at the top of the Bulldogs rotation.
"I'm more prepared this year and a little bit stronger," he said. "Last year, I got tore up by Greenbrier and Evans. I learned don't think about it. Just throw and let your defense back you up."
Sanders will also benefit from a veteran catcher behind the plate. Senior Alex Hintz returns as a starter.
"He's used to Alex Hintz being back there," Lewis said of Sanders. "Hintz controls the pitchers well."
Harlem will begin regular-season play Tuesday with a home opener against Lakeside.
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