Mike Leverett believes his young team can get a little starstruck at times.
Facing ranked squads, he said, Harlem's softball team can have trouble producing the type of offense they typically can.
"I know we can hit. We have a good young team," Leverett said. "Sometimes, when they play ranked teams, they think that team is a whole lot better."
Facing region rival and No. 6-ranked Thomson on Thursday, however, Harlem had no such troubles, scoring early and often, then withstanding a comeback attempt in a 12-7 victory.
"Big win. Big win," Leverett said. "That was big for the girls. Beating them gave us even more momentum going into the region."
The timing was ideal for Harlem. Though Thomson won the season's first two matchups between the two teams, Thursday's game was the one that counted in the Region 3N-AAA standings.
"We played pretty good today. We still have stuff we need to work on, but it's a good feeling beating Thomson," said Abbie Drake, who singled her first three times up to bat from the leadoff spot. "We came out here today and really got on fire. We were pumped up."
Kristen Mills pitched a complete game, striking out 11. Just as important for the home team was her performance at the plate.
The home Bulldogs already had scored a run in the first inning against the visiting Bulldogs when Jessica Coleman walked with the bases loaded.
Mills came up and promptly hit a grand slam over the left field wall.
It produced an immediate turn of events after the first batter Mills faced in the top of the inning -- Hannah Wilson -- hit a home run to center field for a quick lead.
"It felt really good," Mills said of the grand slam, only the third home run she has hit in three years at Harlem. "I'm going to be honest. The first inning when I went out there, first batter home run, that really put me down. But when I got my hit, it picked me and everyone else up."
After Thomson added another solo home run from Jada Lawson in the third inning, Harlem piled it on in the fourth.
Haley Mays and Drake hit consecutive singles to lead off the inning, then Tori Poss reached when Thomson pitcher Brooke Herkel couldn't handle her sacrifice bunt. Kristin Rawlins reached when Thomson failed to get an out on her fielder's choice bunt, then Coleman hit a RBI single.
Mills kept the inning going by walking with the bases loaded for her fifth RBI of the game. Lindsey Stokes then secured a RBI on catcher's interference, again with the bases loaded. Finally, Hadley Beggs and Morgan Barton hit consecutive RBI singles.
When the dust settled in the fourth inning, Harlem had scored six runs to go ahead 11-2 and nine consecutive batters had reached base.
Thomson battled back in the fifth inning.
Herkel atoned for a tough day on the mound by hitting a three-run homer to get her team within six runs. Thomson added two more runs on an error, a fielder's choice and a RBI single by Samantha Sims.
Mills got stronger in the final two innings. She struck out the side in the sixth inning, then struck out two more batters to close it out in the seventh. Four of the final five outs came via strikeout.
"Harlem's a quality program, and they've got a great coach," Thomson coach Jason Osborn said.
Though the loss hurts, Osborn said, it does not mean a region title is out of reach.
"That's what I told them," he said. "We could've won tonight and still not won the region championship, or we could lose tonight and still win the region."
Harlem's momentum carried into the weekend, as the Bulldogs won the Gold Division at the Evans Invitational.
The Bulldogs went undefeated, tying Archer before getting wins over Lakeside, Woodland, Hart County and Warner Robins.
Evans won the Silver Division with a 6-2 victory over Cross Creek.
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