By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- Colton Harlow has had his eye on James Madison University's baseball program since he was a kid, and throughout his high school career he had hoped that the Dukes' coaching staff would return the favor.
But for most of his stellar four-year varsity baseball career at Stonewall Jackson High School, Harlow hadn't heard a word from JMU head baseball coach Spanky McFarland or any of his assistant coaches.
"I had D1 looks and everything, it was just weird to me why they never showed me any interest," Harlow, who recently finished his senior season at Stonewall Jackson, said last Friday. "I went and pitched in front of them at a George Mason [University] baseball camp [last summer]. I had multiple schools that had watched me that were at that camp come in contact with me afterwards, and I was just waiting for the JMU call and it just didn't come. I couldn't figure it out."
Harlow, a standout pitcher for the Generals during his four-year varsity career who led the area with 107 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings pitched this past spring, fielded several college offers over the last two years. Division I Longwood University and Division II Shepherd University both offered Harlow athletic scholarships, and Division III Bridgewater had showed heavy interest in acquiring the left-hander's talents.
But it wasn't until Stonewall Jackson's home game against Shenandoah District rival East Rockingham on May 6 that JMU assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator Ted White was finally able to scout Harlow in person. Shortly after White's visit to Rebel Park in New Market, Harlow was guaranteed a spot on the Dukes' roster next season and he will join JMU's baseball program as a preferred walk-on for the upcoming school year.
"It's always been a dream of mine to go play at JMU. When I finally got the opportunity it was like a dream come true, obviously," said Harlow, who will have the opportunity to earn a baseball scholarship with JMU in the future.
Word of Harlow's skill on the mound was spread to JMU by coaches of some of Stonewall's opponents this past spring, Harlow said, but it wasn't until his father sent an email to White shortly before the Generals' game against East Rockingham that the Dukes' coaching staff made any contact.
White never responded to his father's email, Harlow said, which made it even more surprising when White was seen strolling around behind the third-base dugout at Rebel Park before the game.
"Dad came in the dugout and said, 'I hope you have your stuff tonight.' I said, 'Why's that?' And he said, 'Because there's a guy walking around in purple and gold,'" Harlow recalled. "I just thought he was pulling my leg because I thought JMU was out of the question by now."
Harlow started the game and was limited to just three innings due to the Virginia High School League's pitching limitations, but White saw enough in Harlow to schedule a meeting between he and the JMU staff shortly after.
White said in a video on JMUsports.com that Harlow will get "short opportunities" to demonstrate that he can get batters out at the college level. White also praised Harlow's pitch movement and accuracy, saying that those attributes generally translate to success for left-handed pitchers against right-handed college hitters.
Harlow, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 140 pounds on JMU's athletics website, finished his senior season with a record of 4-5 and a 2.86 ERA for Stonewall Jackson (8-11) and was a first-team all-Shenandoah District selection. Harlow, who frequently demonstrated an untouchable fastball-curveball combination this past spring, generates a lot of power behind his small frame, as his fastball generally tops out in the mid- to high 80s.
"I think he's just so loose, he has such a great whip action on it," Stonewall Jackson head coach Mike Lenox said of Harlow's left-handed delivery. "You just can't teach that."
Harlow also batted .460 and led the area with 24 stolen bases this past season and played center field when he wasn't pitching, although he figures to be confined to the mound at JMU.
Harlow is one of 13 newcomers in JMU's 2014-15 recruiting class, which includes four athletes from the Shenandoah Valley. Turner Ashby standouts Evan Hanifee and Eric Yankey -- a friend of Harlow's -- and Spotswood's Tucker McCoy will join Harlow as incoming freshmen at JMU next season.
Like Harlow, Yankey and McCoy are pitchers.
The Dukes (17-36, 8-12 Colonial Athletic Association) struggled on the mound this past season, as JMU ranked last in the conference in both team ERA (7.58) and opponent batting average (.333).
"I've been hearing lately that they struggled on the pitching side a lot. When I heard that I thought, 'Well, maybe I'll get my opportunity,'" Harlow said. "... They went out and recruited heavy for pitching this year so hopefully it will help out and be positive for us."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com