HAMILTON, Ga.-While Harlem High was celebrating its prom on Friday night, the Bulldog baseball team was doing its own dance.
No. 1-ranked Harlem waltzed past Harris County 4-1 and 9-1 to sweep past the Tigers in a best-of-three series in the Class AA state quarterfinals.
With the series win, the Bulldogs (27-6) advance to the semifinals and will play at the winner of the Gainesville-South Forsyth series. The date and time is yet to be determined.
"I was planning on going to (the prom)," Harlem senior first baseman Jonathan Holley said. "But when it comes to the prom and this, it really doesn't compare. I'd much rather be in the Final Four of the state."
Coming into the doubleheader, Harris County (22-6) had won 21 of its last 23 games. But the Tigers left 17 men on base in the two games.
In game one, seven of Harlem's first eight batters reached base as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning.
Clutch pitching and defense saved Harlem the rest of the way.
In the bottom of the first with runners at first and second, Brandon Hollis blasted a Chuck Harrington pitch to deep left field. But left fielder Justin Sheppard made a running catch at the edge of the track to save two runs.
"I thought it was going over the fence," Sheppard said. "I thought I was going to dive, but I was able to get to it. I was determined to get it."
Harris County loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, but Harrington (10-0) struck out Brad Booth to get out of the jam.
The Tigers threatened again in the fifth inning. With one out, Brannon Bass walked and Alex Dean followed with a single. Hollis, however, hit a check-swing line drive to Jeff Moore at short who stepped on second for the double play.
Harris County got on the board in the sixth inning as Chris Carr drove in Wes Fishburne with a sacrifice fly.
Harrington struggled with control problems as he threw 137 pitches in the game. But the junior right-hander struck out seven, while allowing five hits and five walks.
In game two, Harlem - playing as the home team - got a pair of excuse-me infield singles from Harrington and Moore to take a 2-1 lead. Harlem added another run on a Sheppard ground out to take a 3-1 lead after one inning.
After the Bulldogs added a pair of runs in the third inning, Sheppard rifled a two-out, two-run double to left to put Harlem up 7-1.
In the sixth inning, Sheppard added another two-out, two-run double to give Harlem a 9-1 lead.
"I feel I'm seeing the ball better," said Sheppard, who went 4-for-7 with 7 RBI in the doubleheader. "I just try to sit back and hit it."
Chris Woods (8-1) also struggled with inconsistency but went the distance for Harlem, striking out eight while walking seven.
"We played good defense, had timely hitting and the pitchers sucked it up when they had to," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said. "I'm real proud of them. They're a long way from home, but they're focused. They want to win (a state title) real bad."
Chris Gay can be reached at 868-1222 or cag112hotmail.com
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