HARRISONBURG – Colton Harlow, Conor Hartigan and Garrett Richards bring a local flavor to James Madison University’s baseball team and the trio are playing a big role in the Dukes’ success this season.
Harlow, a 2014 Stonewall Jackson graduate, is JMU’s No. 1 pitcher. Hartigan, a 2017 Millbrook graduate, is one of the Dukes’ top hitters. Richards, a 2015 Strasburg graduate, is one of the top relief pitchers on the squad.
“It’s cool,” Conor Hartigan said after JMU’s 4-3 victory over Elon University on Friday. “I never really talked to those guys before coming here. Colt’s (Harlow) older than me and so is Garret. They’re a lot older than me, but that’s cool to have guys close by here and not from Florida or Georgia, all over the country. And we’re still competing and winning games from just the crop that we got here.”
Harlow and Richards knew of each other in high school, but it wasn’t until Richards decided to transfer to JMU from Danville Community College last year that the two became friends.
In fact, the Shenandoah County pair are now roommates at JMU.
“When I heard he was coming I needed an extra roommate, so I hit ’em up right away and he hadn’t found anybody to live with yet,” Harlow said. “So he moved in and we’ve become pretty tight for sure. It’s pretty cool because we didn’t really know each other before, even being from the same county, and now we’re good friends.”
Richards said Harlow was a big help to him, especially with getting ready for his first season at the Division I level.
“He’s kind of showed me around, like when I first got here,” Richards said. “In the fall he was teaching me how to hide my pitches better on the mound and teaching me different pickoffs and showing me different grips.”
JMU head coach Marlin Ikenberry said he always loves to recruit local players when he can. Page County’s Tanner Dofflemyer and Spotswood’s Tucker McCoy are also on the JMU squad.
Harlow has continued to develop his game. This season he is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA. In Friday’s victory, he went 5 innings, allowed just three hits, one earned run and struck out two.
Last summer the left-hander played for the Peninsula Pilots in the Coastal Plains League and he said he had a great season.
“Coming off the summer I felt the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” Harlow said. “And I’ve been trying to work back to that and to get back in the groove that I was in last summer. I think I’m working my way back to that. I’m on the right path for sure.”
Harlow said he’s also heard from around 15 different Major League Baseball teams that are interested in possibly drafting him in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft.
“It’s just a great experience,” Harlow said. “It’s what I’ve been working for my whole life and to see it finally happening is just really special.”
Ikenberry said that he believes Harlow, who can throw as fast as low 90s now, would be a great fit for an MLB organization.
“As athletic as he is and with his stuff, I think he would be a short reliever out of the pen at the next level,” Ikenberry said. “I just think left-handed pitching and athletic, with his arm and his breaking ball, I think he’d be an asset to any Major League Baseball program.”
Richards, a junior, has thrown the most innings for the Dukes this season (12.2). He has 11 strikeouts and has made six appearances.
At Danville Community College, Richards was a starting pitcher, but he said that he doesn’t care how JMU uses him as long as he can help the team in some way. He said he’s happy with how he’s been throwing this season.
“I’ve been trying to work on my breaking ball,” Richards said. “My fastball and changeup have been pretty good. I’ve been working a lot on that changeup. It’s been a really good go-to pitch for me.”
Richards plans to play for the Strasburg Express again in the Valley Baseball League this summer. The lefty played for the Express two years ago, but had to miss last season due to an injury.
Ikenberry said he heard about Richards from Front Royal resident and former MLB pitcher Dana Allison, who is also a JMU graduate. Ikenberry said that JMU pitching coach Jimmy Jackson went and saw Richards twice last year and they are very happy he transferred to the Dukes.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Garrett Richards,” Ikenberry said. “I didn’t really know what role he would fall into. He’s had some great outings for us. He’s one of those guys, he’s a go-to-guy out of the pen for us whenever we feel like it’s a good situation.”
Hartigan, a freshman, has known Ikenberry for a while now. Ikenberry began recruiting Hartigan and his older brother Ryan when Conor was a freshman at Millbrook and Ikenberry was head coach at Virginia Military Institute.
Conor Hartigan originally committed to Coastal Carolina University, but things didn’t work out and so he began looking at other schools last spring.
“Since I was 15 (Ikenberry’s) been a good guy to me and my brother,” Hartigan said. “And other things at other schools just didn’t fall through. And I thought it would be nice to stay home and come play for Ike. I love the team. I love the guys. I love the coaches. I don’t think I would have it better anywhere else. This place is home to me. And it’s nice being close to home as well – only an hour away. My mom, she’s so happy that I stayed this close to home. She comes to every game she can.”
Hartigan, who helped lead the Winchester Post 21 American Legion team to the state final last summer, is hitting .324 for the Dukes (13-9) and has two homers, five doubles and 10 RBIs this season.
“Conor Hartigan has been refreshing to coach,” Ikenberry said. “He wants to learn every day. He plays the game with a relentless mindset, plays very hard every day. And that’s something that we’ve always looked for in recruiting. We want guys that want to play hard every day.”