By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- Colton Harlow's journey to becoming a dominant pitcher on the mound for Stonewall Jackson High School began like most high school baseball players' careers do.
"I started when I was young," Harlow, a senior, said after a game against Luray on Wednesday evening. "I was always walking around with a baseball bat in my hand ... and my parents told me I never left the house without my glove. I've always been throwing the ball -- every chance I could get I was playing ball. I guess that has really helped me out a lot. And just working hard, that's what happened."
Harlow also got a little help from another talented pitcher during the summer before his freshman year of high school in 2010. That year, Harlow's family hosted then-New Market Rebel Blaine Sims, who was spending the summer pitching in the Valley Baseball League.
Sims, a fellow left-hander who spent the last four years pitching in the Atlanta Braves' minor league system, helped Harlow begin building a repertoire that now consists of five pitches.
"He taught me how to throw a two-seam fastball that gets a lot of tail. I just start it in the middle of the zone and it just fades out," Harlow said. "I never had that before and he taught me that, and that's really, really helped me out on the mound."
Harlow, who first began starting on the mound for Stonewall as a freshman that following spring, has since emerged as the Generals' uncontested ace.
In an 8-1 win over visiting Buffalo Gap on April 14, Harlow showed just how effective his arsenal of pitches has become. Harlow, The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for April 13-19, struck out a career-high 16 batters to pick up his second win of the season.
"He was the most dominant that I've seen him in the three year's that I've been here," Generals coach Mike Lenox said. "He threw a no-hitter against Buffalo Gap [his sophomore season], I feel he was more dominant in that game [last week] than he was when he threw that no-hitter."
Harlow said he was hitting all of his spots during his warm-up session in the bullpen prior to the game, and that consistency carried over against the Bison. Aside from the third inning, when Harlow gave up a few hits that led to Buffalo Gap's only run, the left-hander was nearly untouchable. He surrendered just five hits over the complete seven innings in the win.
"I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand pretty well. I was hitting all of my spots," Harlow said. "I think I only had two or three walks. I was pretty consistent. I was just really relying on my fastball, and then they were expecting fastball and I would throw a curveball by them and they just couldn't catch up with the curveball."
Harlow currently throws five pitches, including two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup, a curveball and a slider that he uses occasionally as a strikeout pitch. He said his fastball recently topped out at around 84-85 miles per hour, but it is the movement on his pitches that seems to make Harlow most effective.
"He has a lot of movement on everything he throws. I've told him 100 times, I don't care if you throw 90, if you can throw 83 with the movement you have, you're going to get people out," Lenox said. "It's all about location and throwing strikes. In the past he'd walk quite a few and his pitch count would get up. I can't have him throwing 120 pitches a game. So talking to him about pitching to contact and strikeouts will come, he's starting to understand a little bit more that the more strikes he throws, the more strikeouts he'll have."
Harlow, who plays center field when he's not pitching and provides a dangerous bat from the leadoff spot for the Generals, had made six appearances (three starts) on the mound prior to Stonewall's game at Page County on Thursday evening.
Entering Thursday, Harlow was 2-2 with a 2.80 earned run average and had struck out an eye-popping 52 batters in just 25 innings pitched.
Harlow's success on the mound has attracted plenty of interest from college scouts, and the senior has been fielding offers over the last two seasons. He said he has narrowed his list down to several of his favorite schools, but he has yet to decide on where he will be playing baseball next year.
"I've had some pretty good offers and everything. I've slimmed it down to pretty much two or three colleges," Harlow said. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD