HARLEM -- All Chuck Harrington wanted was a chance at redemption.
He'll get that chance Friday.
After pitching 1/3 of an inning against Screven County last week, the Bulldog senior pitcher is looking for a better outing against Eastside in the Class AA state semifinals.
"I feel I have something to prove," said Harrington, who is 8-5 with a 2.91 ERA. "It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. That could have been the last game I played in high school, and I didn't want to go out like that."
At times earlier this year, Harlem (24-10) didn't resemble the team that was one game away from winning the 1999 state title. The Bulldogs have struggled at the plate at times as shown by their .317 team batting average, down 25 points from a year ago.
"Last year was like a dream season," Harrington said. "That was one of the best teams I've played on. Chemistry-wise, we were all like brothers out there. This year, it was a little different not having those seniors out there. It was kind of shaky at first. It was like everyone was sitting back, waiting to see who would step up and lead."
After cruising through the regular season, the Bulldogs bottomed out April 25.
Harlme committed six errors and hit into four double plays in an 11-2 loss in the Region 3-AA championship game at Swainsboro.
"We went down there to Swainsboro, and we looked like crap," head coach Jimmie Lewis said. "And then we got back, and we weren't sure if we had it together."
However, a Harlem team that won four one-run games in its 30-8 season last year suddenly won four one-run games in series wins at Harris County and Screven County. In last week's deciding game, the Bulldogs defeated Screven staff ace Macay McBride in a 1-0 thriller.
"That brought us together more than anything," senior pitcher/first baseman Chris Woods said. "It shows that we can win when it counts."
With a pitching staff that has a team ERA of 2.11, down from 3.60 last season, Harlem has the luxury of playing tight, low-scoring ballgames. Clete Stewart (3-1) leads the team with a 0.22 ERA and four saves in 32 innings, while Johnny Dobbs (7-1) is next with a 1.11 ERA through 50 1/3 innings.
Second baseman Luis Scott and shortstop Brian Newman gobbled up every grounder Screven County had to offer in games 2 and 3 of their series and have been steady up the middle all year. Outfielder Nolan Martin even gunned down a runner at the plate in the Harris County series.
"Pitching and defense is what wins games, and that's what we've been doing. So I had a lot of confidence in us playing in the state playoffs," Scott said.
And should Harlem advance to the state finals for a second straight time, this team would have the second most losses of any Bulldog team in 10 state finals appearances. In 1992, Harlem entered the state championships with a 22-13 record before getting swept by Cook County.
"I think the best is yet to come in these next two weeks," Scott said. "It's sad to say we've waited this long to start playing."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.
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