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Prep baseball: Harless effective, leads Red Dragons

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Albans pitcher Austin Harless has no idea about the speed of his fastball.

All the 5-foot-10 senior understands is pounding the strike zone with pitch after pitch.

Harless had a highly efficient performance against Parkersburg at Loftis Field in St. Albans' 6-0 blanking of the Big Reds (6-8).

Following a first inning in which Parkersburg had the bases loaded with two singles and a walk when Harless threw 24 pitches, he didn't have another inning with more than 14 to improve his record to 4-1 and his earned run average to 1.01.

"He threw three pitches for strikes and when you do that in high school you're going to be effective," said St. Albans Coach Rick Whitman, whose team has won 11 of its last 12 games. "Fastball, curveball, changeup. The first couple innings he didn't have a lot of velocity and about the third inning, it looked like he got stronger. That's what our pitchers have done all year."

Harless stayed ahead of the batters and helped back-to-back doubles by Phoenix Shrewsbury and Dustin Turley in the first inning hold up, although he did receive some insurance production.

Harless, who gave up a season-high four runs in a season-opening loss to defending Class AAA champion Princeton, has not surrendered an earned run since the fourth inning of that game.

He labored somewhat in the first inning, but threw three or fewer pitches to 18 of the remaining 23 batters and faced only four in the sixth inning - one reached on an error. The three outs were on 1-0 pitches with a groundout, flyout and strikeout.

"The least pitches you can throw and get hitters out, that's the objective," Whitman said. "The quicker you can do that the better. Our philosophy is to play fast out there (in the field) and slow in here. Pitching to contact. That's what he did."

Parkersburg Coach Alan Burns, in his 14th season guiding the Big Reds, said his players had to swing early because Harless was hitting the strike zone regularly.

"He was picking up the pace a little in the third or fourth inning," said Burns, whose team averaged nine hits and seven runs entering the game. "He really hit his spots well all night. When a kid is pitching like that, we want them swinging because we knew he was throwing first-pitch strikes. What we were upset about is that we weren't swinging at the 0-2."

Parkersburg batters were caught looking on six of Harless' strikeouts, including the first two batters of the seventh inning. If they thought Harless was going to throw away pitches after getting ahead of them 1-2 and 0-2 respectively, they were mistaken.

"I was trying to get ahead with my fastball and going with off speed later in the count," Harless said.

Offensively, the Red Dragons capitalized on an error on the catcher in the first inning. Shrewsbury doubled to lead off the game, but a Turley pop fly behind the plate was dropped.

He exploited the second chance with a run-scoring double.

A Shrewsbury single scored a second-inning run and Joey Dodrill capped the scoring with a sixth-inning single.

Bobby Grishaber's two-run double in the fifth inning extended the lead to 5-0 for the Red Dragons.

The victory marked the third shutout of the season for the St. Albans pitching staff, which has a 2.32-combined earned run average.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at or 304-348-4837.


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