Strasburg grad Richards joins JMU baseball squad

Strasburg's Garrett Richards throws a pitch during the Conference 35 baseball tournament championship game in May 2015, against George Mason at First Bank Park in Strasburg. Richards, a 2015 graduate of Strasburg High School, has committed to play baseball for James Madison University next year. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Garrett Richards found the ideal place to play baseball next season — James Madison University.

The 2015 Strasburg graduate just finished up his two years at Danville Community College, and recently decided to transfer to JMU and play baseball next year for the Dukes.

Richards said he was thinking about playing at Division II Florida Southern, located in Lakeland, Florida. He said he then thought about JMU and wanted to see if they would have a spot for him.

“It’s close to home, a bunch of my friends and family could come watch me,” Richards said of JMU. “And it just seemed that would be the easier choice of all my options.”

Richards, who is a pitcher, said he got in touch with JMU baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry. Richards said shortly after that JMU pitching coach Jimmy Jackson came to watch him pitch against Eastern Mennonite University in April in Harrisonburg.

Richards said he talked to Jackson and then a few days later was offered a spot on JMU’s roster.

“I’m very excited to play there,” Richards said. “It’s going to be only about 45 minutes from home. So my parents can actually come watch me pitch and all my friends can come watch me pitch. I got a lot of friends that go to JMU. I’m just really ready for this new experience.”

Richards, who will be a junior this fall at JMU, will be joining Stonewall Jackson graduate Colton Harlow on JMU’s pitching staff. He said he and Harlow, a rising senior, will be roommates this coming season.

Richards said he hopes Harlow, who was one of JMU’s starting pitchers last year, will show him the ropes.

“Hopefully he can take me in, teach me what I need to do, show me the way,” Richards said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about him, him being good in the classroom. He’s got a good work ethic. He’s been doing pretty good at JMU, so hopefully he can show me the right way to do things.”

Richards had a very successful two-year career at Danville. This past season he appeared in 18 games and had a 10-1 record.

Richards threw 76.1 innings with 102 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA. He said that this season he took a different approach and it really paid off.

“I was trying to not focus on striking out as many people and let my defense work,” Richards said. “But in doing that, trying to fill up the strike zone, I ended up striking out more people than I did last year. So that was actually an improvement I made. Just changing my mentality of how I was trying to pitch actually helped me to pitch a lot better this past year.”

Richards had a few friendly faces with him at Danville: 2015 Strasburg graduate Noah St. Clair was Richards’ teammate both seasons at Danville and 2016 Strasburg graduate Nathan Butler joined the pair this past season.

All three had successful seasons at Danville, and Richards said it was nice playing with them.

“It was cool taking a bunch of guys from Strasburg to a new school and being able to have a positive impact on the team,” Richards said.

Last summer Richards also got to experience playing in the Valley Baseball League. He played for the Strasburg Express as a relief pitcher. He said he gave up back-to-back home runs in his first outing with the Express, and he learned quickly that he had to make some adjustments when pitching at a higher level.

“If you make a mistake in junior college you can get away with it,” Richards said. “But in the Valley League and (Division I) level if you make mistakes those guys are going to eat it up. And that really taught me how to keep my pitches low, locate my pitches and try not to give up home runs.”

Richards said he’s improved a lot in the last year in many ways. He said he’s trying to learn how to analyze things if he’s making a mistake to a batter, having better command and knowing when to throw what pitch. He said he’s also worked out more in the weight room and is trying to get in better shape so that he can go longer in a game without getting tired.

He said he’s not playing any baseball this summer as JMU wanted him to shut things down after pitching so many innings last season at Danville.

Richards said JMU has told him they expect him to come in and see playing time next season. He said he’d prefer to be a starter, but he really just wants to get on the mound and do what he can to help the team.

The Dukes went 24-27 last season, including 7-17 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Richards said playing Division I baseball has always been a dream of his, and he’s happy it’s about to come true.

“You’re always watching the College World Series, college players on TV, just hoping one day that you can make it on TV, be one of those guys that everybody looks up to,” Richards said. “And hopefully I can be one of those guys that little kids can look up to. They were really important for me when I was growing up, always looking up to those guys wanting to be like them. So hopefully kids want to be like us.”