Mike Leverett and Jonathan Holley agreed their team's home opener against Washington-Wilkes last Wednesday wasn't pretty.
But the Harlem softball coaches found plenty of reason for optimism after the Bulldogs shut out the Tigers in the second game of the double-header.
Harlem freshman Kristen Mills pitched a one-hitter in the 4-0 win that was shortened to five innings. Before that, junior Kaleigh McNair had pitched a solid outing, but the Tigers came back from two runs down to win 5-2.
It wasn't the start Leverett and Holley wanted, but his young team was encouraged by the outcome of the second game.
"I think it was a big game for them," senior Alana Dyson said of her younger teammates. "We settled down the second game."
The Bulldogs' pitching performances drew praise from both coaches after the games. Leverett and Holly knew they would soon have something special when they watched Mills play middle school ball as an eighth-grader last year. McNair brings some experience, having started a couple of games as a sophomore.
"We don't have a Brittany Newsome this year," Holley said, referring to the Bulldogs 2007 workhorse who graduated. "But we have two we're comfortable with."
Mills seemed comfortable in the circle, and refused to get rattled when mechanical mistakes cost her. Mills was called for two illegal pitches during an at-bat in the second game, when her delivery finished outside the rubber. Faced with a 3-0 count, she rebounded to get the strikeout.
"I think she did great," Dyson said. "We can't expect anything more from her."
The Bulldogs scored in their first at-bat of the second game, after starting with two quick outs. They scored three more in the third.
Mills faced one more than the minimum 15 batters and struck out five. Her lone hit allowed was a blooper to the leadoff batter to start the game.
Dyson reached base safely in all but two of her at-bats, including a triple and two base hits in the first game.
The Bulldogs will play host to Evans on Thursday to open their region schedule.
"I hope we do well," Dyson said of the Bulldogs' season. "We have the potential."
Leverett said the Bulldogs couldn't afford to play the way they did the first game against Washington-Wilkes.
Harlem carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, but the Tigers pushed three across in the top of the fifth. McNair struck out the side the following inning, but the Tigers added two insurance runs in the seventh.
"We made too many errors," Leverett said. "Those easy plays we got to make."
After the field was dragged and the players had left for the parking lot, Leverett had an addendum to his assessment.
"We're going to play better," he said. "I'm not saying we're going to beat (Evans), but we're going to play better."
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