Staying Sharp

JMU's Colton Harlow pitches against Longwood earlier this spring. The Stonewall Jackson graduate will be playing for the Martha Vineyard Sharks for the next month. Photo courtesy JMU Athletics Communications

Colton Harlow was enjoying his summer, playing for a team in Outer Banks, North Carolina. However, when the opportunity came along to play for a strong summer baseball league with his JMU catcher, he couldn’t pass it up.

The 2014 Stonewall Jackson graduate and rising JMU sophomore pitcher leaves Friday morning to go to Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts to play for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. The Sharks are members of the 10-team Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which was established in 2011.

Harlow said he received a call last week from his JMU teammate and catcher Bobby San Martin, who asked if he would be interested in joining his team, Martha’s Vineyard, for the rest of the season. Harlow said he talked it over with his parents, his coach for the Outer Banks Daredevils and new JMU coach Marlin Ikenberry.

“[Ikenberry] said that it was up to me. He figured I should do whatever would make me better, so that’s what I did,” Harlow said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “I’m real excited.”

Harlow said San Martin told him that it’s great competition and some of the places they play have 3-4,000 fans.

Another huge plus is Harlow will get some extra time with his JMU catcher.

“That will be good to work with him some more,” Harlow said. “We had last year, of course, but any extra work you can get in with your catcher and just really improve that whole battery — that’s always good.”

Harlow said that Martha’s Vineyard manager Frank Leoni recruited Harlow in between Harlow’s junior and senior year. Leoni is the head coach at Marymount University.

Harlow said just two weeks into school one of the JMU coaches told him that Outer Banks was interested in him. After talking with a couple of his JMU teammates who had played for them before, he decided to play for the Daredevils.

Outer Banks is in the four-team Tidewater Summer League. For Outer Banks, Harlow was 1-2 with a 1.75 ERA. He pitched 25.2 innings, made seven appearances, including five starts. He struck out 27 and walked 14.

He said he enjoyed his time there, but is looking forward to the opportunity to play for the Sharks. Harlow said he was told that he will start for the Sharks on Saturday. The Sharks are in first place in the East Division with a 21-13 record in the league.

In his freshman season at JMU, Harlow was used as a relief pitcher, but he said he’s enjoying being a starting pitcher this summer.

“I definitely enjoy starting. I feel like I like it more,” Harlow said. “The only thing is you’ve just got to kind of pace yourself. If you want to go more than three innings you got to pace yourself on speed and everything. So your velocity is down a few miles per hour, but that’s all good. That’s where you really got to work on being consistent and hitting your spots.”

Harlow had a solid freshman season at JMU. He appeared in 20 games and had a 6.75 ERA. He had one save, and struck out 36 in 41.1 innings of work for the Dukes.

He said it was a big adjustment going from high school to college, and one of the biggest things was becoming better at locating pitches.

“Being a lefty throwing mid-upper 80s in college, that’s pretty average for the most part. So you really have to work on hitting your spots and really painting the outside corners,” Harlow said. “You have to know what to do with pitches. Your whole demeanor on the mound completely changes [in college].”

Harlow said he’s really tried to work on being more consistent and having less walks over the summer.

JMU recently hired Ikenberry as head coach, after long-time head coach Spanky McFarland retired at the end of this past season. Ikenberry was the head coach at VMI, and Harlow said that Ikenberry recruited him when he was in high school.

Harlow said he was able to talk to Ikenberry on Wednesday face-to-face for the first time and he thinks he will be a good coach for the Dukes.

“He seems like a really good guy, knows what he’s talking about for sure,” Harlow said. “He’s had great programs. … He seems like he’s going to be a great guy for the job.”

Harlow said that he’s learned a lot since high school, but the biggest thing is probably just to have confidence on the mound.

“You just gotta have a confident attitude. You just gotta believe that you’re the better guy when you’re out there,” Harlow said. “You’re playing baseball, what you love to do. You just got to do the best you can. Sometimes you’re not going to do as well as you want and other times you’re going to do better than you ever thought you could. You just gotta go out there and give it your all.

“Basically the competition is better and you just got to play up to your competition. If you’re pitching against a really good hitting team, you just got to pitch better.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com