Double Header

Harlem High local high school baseball team recently won back-to-back state championship titles.

Photos courtesy of Harlem High School and Augusta Christian Schools

A local high school baseball team recently won back-to-back state championship titles.

The words bear repeating. After all, not one, but two, Columbia County teams – Harlem High and Augusta Christian – successfully defended their state championships this year.

To capture its latest Georgia Class-AAA crown, Harlem swept Calvary Day School this spring by scores of 13-5 in game one and 7-0 in the second game.

Last year the Bulldogs also swept their opponent for the title, defeating Ringgold High School 5-3 and 2-1 with come-from-behind victories in both games.

The 2023 and 2024 state championships were the sixth and seventh titles for Head Coach Jimmie Lewis, who has led the program for the last 46 years of his 48-year career on the Harlem baseball staff.

“It means a whole lot when you’re 71 years old,” he says. “They were a team. They were not a bunch of individuals.”

With last year’s title, the Bulldogs ended a 37-year drought by winning their first state championship since 1986. They finished as runners-up in 1992 and 1999 when Lewis coached his four sons.

He also led the team to state championships in 1979, his first year as head coach, and pulled off a three-peat in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

In addition, MaxPreps ranked Harlem as high as No. 9 in the nation and No. 1 out of all classifications in Georgia this year.

high school baseball team recently won back-to-back state championship titlesAugusta Christian shut out Cardinal Newman High School, 8-0, in the third game of the best-of-three series to win this year’s South Carolina Independent School Association’s Class-AAAA baseball championship. The team also won the first game, 3-1, after dropping game two in extra innings.

A year ago, the Lions won the school’s first state title since 2007 by defeating Hammond High School, 9-3, in the decisive third game.

With this season’s title, Austin Robinson, a 2013 Greenbrier High grad who pitched in back-to-back state championships for the Wolfpack, won his second crown in three years as Augusta Christian’s head coach.

“It means everything, especially to the boys who put in all the work and the time. They’ve dedicated their lives to baseball,” he says. “I wish I could take credit, but the credit goes to those boys and what they’ve done the last four years.”

Senior Moments

Both coaches say they had great leadership from the seniors on their teams the last two years, and the state championships were special to the players.

“The seniors have been playing together since we were real little,” says Harlem’s Amerson Guy, the grandson of Oakland Raiders punter and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Guy. “We’ve always dreamed about winning a state championship, but to do it back-to-back was truly incredible.”

He says the 2023 state championship was more exciting because it was the first one Harlem had won in years, but teammate Caiden Coile favors 2024.

“The second one was different because it was the last game that the seniors played together,” he says.

Augusta Christian’s Wilson Donnelly shared that sentiment. “We won the first one for last year’s seniors. The second one felt different because it was my last one,” he says. “I’m glad I got to share it with my teammates and friends. I’ll get to tell my kids that I won back-to-back state championships in high school.”

His teammate, Khaleel Pratt, believes there is no feeling like winning back-to-back championships. “Not many people get to experience that,” he adds. “It was a lot of fun to do it with my guys.”

Along with their back-to-back titles, the seniors on both teams amassed some impressive numbers during their playing days as well.

The Harlem seniors went 128-18 during their four-year high school careers, 73-2 the last two seasons, 10-0 in the 2023 playoffs and 10-0 in the 2024 playoffs. They also set a Bulldogs record with a 37-game win streak that dates back to last season.

Of the eight seniors on this year’s Harlem team, six wanted to keep playing baseball and earned college scholarships.

Jake Fulmer will play at Toccoa Falls College; Tyler Simmons, the Region 4-AAA Player of the Year; is headed to USC-Aiken; and Shane Wheeless will suit up for East Georgia State College.

Jeremiah Hamilton, Guy and Coile will be teammates again at Andrew Junior College, and Hamilton is excited about bringing everything they learned from Coach Lewis to the next level.

“It’s more than just baseball at Harlem. He teaches young kids how to be men,” he says. “We have great chemistry, and we can’t wait to gel with the other players and have a great season.”

The Augusta Christian seniors had a 40-15 record the last two seasons, and all six of them earned scholarships to play collegiate baseball.

Pratt will play for the University of Kentucky, and Luca Perriello is a Virginia Tech signee.

“Playing for Augusta Christian and Coach Robinson taught me how to be a teammate,” Perriello says. We learned to work together, not just on individual goals.”

Eric Doyon is bound for Columbia International University; Santiago Pacheco will play for Southern Union State Community College; Jonah Shipes is going to Gordon State College and

Donnelly signed with the University of West Georgia.

The Meaning of Team

Both teams had to overcome injuries throughout the season. In addition, Robinson says, “We knew we had a target on our backs after last year.”

Lewis, the 2024 Region 4-AAA Coach of the Year, agrees.

“We faced everybody’s best pitcher. My crowd stepped up to the plate. We battled, and we beat them,” he says. “I think if I had told them they were going to play the Atlanta Braves, they would expect to beat them.”

To reach their goals, the players pulled together as a team.

“No one man can win a game. It takes a team, and ‘team’ means ‘together everyone achieves more,’’’ says Lewis. “When we work as a team, we have a chance to win.”

Lewis also says he wouldn’t be successful without assistant coaches Chris Waters, Rusty James, Hunter McBride and Lonnie Morris; trainer Robert Leslie; athletic director Rodney Holder, and his wife of 50 years, Nancy. He even got to share last year’s title with his grandson, Landen Lewis, who was a senior on the 2023 team.

Robinson’s wife, Molly, came to every game with their 1-year-old daughter, Lilly, on her hip, and the players acknowledged their fans as well.

“All the support we had from the people of Harlem, you’ll never find anywhere else,” says Will Holder, a rising HHS senior who has committed to Georgia Southern. “They traveled everywhere with us.”

History of Success

Of course, Columbia County has a long history of baseball success.

Robinson credits the pedigree to head coaches like Lewis, Terry Holder (grandfather of Will and father of Rodney, who won back-to-back 4A state championships at Greenbrier in 2006 and 2007) and Gerald Barnes.

“Augusta is a great stomping ground for baseball because of these three men,” he says.

Terry Holder won eight state baseball championships at Evans (five) and Greenbrier (three) high schools. At Westside High in Augusta, Barnes won more than 900 games and two state titles.

“When you play and coach around people like Terry Holder and Gerald Barnes, you tend to learn. Sometimes they beat your brains out, but that’s how you learn,” Lewis says.

The future also is bright for Columbia County baseball, and HHS and Augusta Christian are eyeing a three-peat next year.

“It’s doable,” says Lewis. “We need to practice hard, work hard, set goals, take one game at a time and go after it.”

The 2025 Bulldogs also will play on the newly christened Jimmie Lewis Field, which will be dedicated at the start of the season.

Ethan Duckworth, a rising senior for Augusta Christian, says winning the first two state championships was hard. As for a three-peat, he adds, “We’re going to try to find a way to get it done.”

By Todd Beck