Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis probably wasn't the most optimistic passenger on the Bulldogs' charter bus as they drove to South Effingham on Tuesday.
Lewis's teams had lost the Region 3-AAA title game to the Mustangs the past two seasons.
"I expected a real tough ball game," Lewis said. "To be honest with you, I didn't know if we could beat them or not, because they've always been tough."
But the Bulldogs broke through, using a big second inning and clutch pitching to hold off the Mustangs 10-5 and win their first region championship since 2001.
Harlem won the championship game in much the same way it knocked off Cross Creek to reach the title game.
Lewis said Bulldogs left-hander Steven Waters kept the Mustangs off balance with a steady diet of off-speed pitches so that when the hard-throwing Patrick Gamblin entered, South Effingham batters couldn't keep up.
"After them seeing Waters 75-76 (miles per hour), Gamblin came in shooting at 88-89," Lewis said. "Gamblin probably looked 90-95."
Gamblin also launched a three-run home run as part of a seven-run Bulldogs second. Senior Mike Leverett finished 2-for-3 and Carlos Beard and Aaron Rachels doubled.
"We hit the ball like we're capable," Lewis said.
Lewis's team will play host to Worth County on May 9 to open the Class AAA state playoffs. The Bulldogs have won their past seven games and 13 of their past 14.
"I've been real proud of this crowd," Lewis said. "We just want (our record) to be 30 -and something. If we're 30-and-something, that means we've won the state championship."
Mike Leverett steals second ahead of the throw to South Effingham County's Colby May at the top of the third inning.
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