By Jeff Nations
Colton Harlow smiles a lot these days.
Chances are you'll see a grin on the Stonewall Jackson High School senior's face if you run into him this week. There's a good reason for that -- two good reasons, actually. Last week, Harlow and the Generals did something they'd never done before -- beat county rivals Strasburg and Central in boys basketball. That it happened back-to-back, and that Harlow played a pivotal role in both long-awaited victories ... well, that's just a bonus.
"I smile every time I think about it," said Harlow, Stonewall Jackson's point guard and tri-captain along with Daniel Buhl and Leo Galindez. "I'm still pretty pumped up about it."
Harlow tallied a game-high 21 points against Strasburg and added 15 against Central to earn The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week honor for Dec. 1-Dec. 7.
The Generals knew they had a solid team coming into this season with Harlow running the offense. Beating Strasburg was the first order of business, and Harlow played a huge role in making that happen for the first time in at least a decade.
Harlow's two 3-pointers in the second quarter helped the Generals build a 34-24 halftime lead. The Rams managed to cut that deficit to four points with 47 seconds to play, but Harlow came up with a decisive steal in the closing seconds. Fouled with 18 seconds to play, he sank both free throws to ice the victory.
"Colton is that type of player that we lean on him in big situations," Stonewall Jackson coach Patrick Smoot said. "He's probably one of the most highly skilled kids I've coached in my young career. He's a true leader on this team in every aspect."
The win over Strasburg was extremely satisfying for Harlow and his teammates, but beating the Falcons two nights later perhaps meant even more to the Generals. It hadn't happened in their lifetimes, after all.
Harlow was expected to again lead the Generals against Central, but events didn't exactly follow that script. Saddled with early foul trouble, Harlow sat on the sideline while his team managed to survive -- thrive, even -- without him on the floor.
Harlow missed a portion of the first quarter and all of the second with those two fouls, and was understandably eager to get back out there and help his team. Instead, he picked up his third foul early in the third quarter and was right back out of the game.
"When it first happened, I was all right," Harlow said. "I thought I'd just go sit out a little bit and hopefully come back and get my game going a little bit. It just kept dragging on and I was sitting on the bench thinking, 'Why am I here?' The one good thing was watching my team out there keeping the lead. That was awesome."
Smoot sent Harlow back in again late in the third quarter, and the senior proceeded to make up for lost time. Held scoreless until his final re-entry, Harlow promptly took the game over. He scored 15 points over the final eight-plus minutes, including a pivotal 3-pointer. And with just more than four seconds to play, Harlow sank a pair of free throws that locked up the win.
"He's a gamer," Smoot said. "He loves playing the games. He goes to practice to get to the game. When the lights came on, so did Colton."
Harlow thinks the 2-0 start proved something once and for all to the Generals.
"We finally realized how good of a team we are," Harlow said. "And what we can be."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>