Harlow living his dream, making impact for the Dukes

James Madison University's Colton Harlow throws a pitch during the 2016 season. The former Stonewall Jackson High School standout has helped lead the Dukes to a strong start this season. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — Colton Harlow is living out his dream.

The 2014 Stonewall Jackson graduate and James Madison University junior pitcher dreamed of one day playing for the Dukes, and he has become a key player for the squad.

“It’s a blessing,” Harlow said with a smile Saturday after the Dukes’ 14-6 baseball victory over Buffalo University. “Just growing up obviously wanting to come here my whole life. And then obviously getting the chance to, is really just a dream come true. Just working hard and trying to prove that I deserve to be here. It’s awesome being here. It’s just amazing.”

Harlow, JMU’s No, 2 starter, pitched 4.2 innings on Saturday before leaving with the game tied at 4-4. He struck out four in his third start of the season.

As a freshman, Harlow pitched out of the bullpen for the Dukes. He finished the season with a 6.75 ERA in 20 relief appearances. He struck out 36 and recorded one save.

The 5-foot-10 lefty said it was a bit of an adjustment going from high school to Division I college baseball.

“I guess just adjusting to the smaller things is the big thing,” Harlow said. “And the hitters obviously are just a lot more powerful. You can’t really fool them as easily as high school.”

After his freshman season Marlin Ikenberry replaced retired JMU head coach Spanky McFarland, and Harlow said that was also an adjustment.

Harlow said things have went well with Ikenberry as head coach.

“It’s so much better,” Harlow said. “It’s dramatically changed the whole demeanor and drive that we have on the team. We come out a lot more energized and ready to go. And it’s a lot less lackadaisical out on the field practice and games. Just everything in general is just a lot more organized and a lot easier to work with.”

Ikenberry wanted Harlow to move into a starter’s role. The summer after his freshman season, Harlow played for the Outer Banks Dare Devils, in Outer Banks North Carolina. The team was in the Tidewater Summer League. Halfway through the season, he had an opportunity to play for Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League and he took it.

Harlow said he developed bicep tendonitis and so his time for Martha’s Vineyard was cut short, but he learned a lot over the summer. He was a starting pitcher in both leagues and he said that helped him get ready for last season.

Last year, Harlow went 3-6 with a 6.20 ERA. He struck out 53, which was second on the team. He was also named the Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Week on May 23.

“I feel like I could go back and change a lot of things and do differently, but at the same time it was my first learning experience as an actual starter at JMU,” Harlow said of last season. “I thought it was decent, but I definitely expect more out of myself. Hoepfully this year will be a lot better.”

Last summer, Harlow said he played for the Peninsula Pilots, in Hampton, in the Coastal Plain League.

Harlow has added some velocity to his fatsball, which is now 88-90 miles an hour. He said he’s also developed a slider, which is getting better and better.

“Last year I threw (the slider) a little bit, but now this year I can command it. I know where it’s going,” Harlow said. “I’ve been working with my movement a lot more throwing two-seams and changeups in the zone, and just let my movement take care of the rest. And just trying to get roll-over ground balls and let the defense work.”

Ikenberry said that he’s very happy with Harlow. He said that one of the biggest things Harlow has improved on is not getting frustrated on the mound.

“He’s maintaining his composure much better,” Ikenberry said. “It takes nine guys to win a baseball game, and he can’t do it all by himself.”

For the season, Harlow is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA. He has pitched 13.1 innings and has struck out 11.

He said he wants to average a strike out per innings and have an above .500 record this year.

The Dukes are 8-2, including a big win on Feb. 19 over defending national champion Coastal Carolina, 11-3, in the Chanticleer’s Baseball at the Beach tournament.

“The energy that was going on in that place was unreal,” Harlow said. “The fans, the atmosphere was just awesome. And then when we came away with it, it made it just that much better.”

Harlow said that the team has set pretty high goals this season, but he thinks they can achieve them.

“The team goal is to make regionals and hopefully just keep going from there and set new goals once we get there,” Harlow said. “Basically just be the team to beat. We know we can do it. We’ve proved that the past few weeks, that we have the potential to be that team. So we just have to keep working for that.”

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