HEPHZIBAH, Ga. -- The Lady Bulldogs of Harlem High gave it everything they had, but in the end it wasn't enough as they ended up bowing to the Thomson Lady Bulldogs in their quest to capture the Region 3-AAA girls' softball championship.
Both Thomson and Harlem hosted the Georgia High School Class AAA state playoffs' first-round at their ballparks Wednesday. Thomson was to take on Americus-Sumter in the first game at 5 p.m. The second game will follow a few minutes later. A third and final game of the series, if necessary, will be played on Thursday beginning at 2:30 p.m.
The tournament began at Diamond Lakes Regional Park near Hephzibah on Oct. 2 and continued through Oct. 5. Harlem was the favored team of the four teams that advanced to the tournament's last day.
In the first game of the day, Harlem held off a late rally by Thomson to win 6-5.
The loss placed Thomson in the losers' bracket, while Harlem took a break. During that time, Thomson walloped Washington County's Lady Golden Hawks 25-5 to get another crack at Harlem.
That's when things went awry for Harlem.
Thomson bounced back in that game and handed Harlem a 9-2 loss -- thus leading to another game against each other. That particular game wasn't just any other game. It was for the championship.
And again, as was the case when they met the second time, it was Thomson coming out on top and winning their first-ever softball region championship. The final score was 6-1.
"We had chances, but we swung at bad pitches and didn't play good defense," lamented Harlem head coach Mike Leverett. "I said before the game ever started on Tuesday that it would come down to pitching and which team could play the best defense."
Asked if the downtime between games hurt his team, coach Leverett said he didn't think so.
"We knew what we needed to do," coach Leverett pointed out. "We just didn't get it done."
In the championship game, Thomson took a 2-0 lead before Harlem tallied their first and what turned out to be their only one of the game when Kristen Mills, the junior pitcher, hit a solo homerun over the right field fence in the bottom of the second inning.
It remained a 2-1 game until the fifth when Thomson pushed across another run.
The Thomson team later rallied for three runs on six hits in the top of the seventh to increase their lead to 6-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.
Quickly, Thomson pitcher Brooke Herkel, who pitched all six games of the tournament, including four games Tuesday, worked to strike out Harlem catcher Morgan Barton, the leadoff batter in the seventh. She then got center fielder Hadley Mays on a come-backer for the second out. Herkel later walked a pinch hitter before Tori Poss, the Harlem shortstop, was rung up by the home plate umpire on a called third strike that ended the game.
In the fourth inning, Harlem had a chance to do some damage as they loaded the bases with two outs. They weren't able to get a clutch hit, however, as Barton grounded out to Thomson second baseman Brea Boutwell.
"This is the reason I came to Thomson," said a jubilant Thomson head coach Jason Osborn. "This is a stepping stone for our program."
The past two seasons, the Thomson team had been runners-up in their quest to win a region championship, as they were beaten out by the West Laurens Lady Raiders of Dublin.
The omen has now been lifted.
"I can't say enough about this team and how hard they worked to get to this point," coach said Osborn. "I'm extremely proud of all of my players."
In the game before the title one against Thomson, Mills' screw ball didn't get to Thomson hitters like it did in the first game that was won by Harlem.
After limiting Thomson to just six hits in the first game, Mills ended up yielding 10 hits to Thomson in the second game.
"My screw ball worked well," said Mills following the Harlem win over Thomson. "I got a lot of support, too, from our defense."
In the victory over Thomson, Harlem struck for three runs each in the bottom of the second and fourth innings.
Mills, who pitched brilliantly in the first game against Thomson, got things started offensively in the second when she led off with a single into left centerfield.
She was followed by Jessica Coleman, who singled, too. Mills and Coleman later scored when Thomson first baseman Caitlin Carpenter made a miscue on a ball hit her way by Hadley Beggs. Morgan Barton followed and hit a solo homerun over the leftfield fence that gave Harlem a 3-0 lead. The Harlem team made it a 6-0 game in the fourth inning.
The Lady Bulldogs scored three more times on hits by Mills, Beggs and Poss. The big hit came off the bat of Poss, who smashed a two-run double into the right centerfield gap.
Thomson made a valiant comeback attempt in the seventh inning, as they tallied four runs on four hits.
With Jadah Lawson and Haley Poss on first and second bases with two outs, though, Mills was able to get Sharlette Farmer to pop out to first baseman Kristin Rawlins for the third out and preserve the victory.
The second game of the day between the same two teams was a different story.
Thomson prevailed 9-2, mainly because they had better pitching, more hits and played better defensively than Harlem.
Like was the case in all four games, junior pitcher Brooke Herkel was the winning pitcher.
"I thought she did a superb job for us," said coach Osborn. "It was exciting for me and the rest of the coaches for sure. But to watch the girls enjoy such an accomplishment on the field the other night is something I will always cherish -- especially to have done it in the manner that we did -- winning three in a row and nobody really believing in us after we dropped the first game."