Casey Hartman never stopped loving baseball. But during his junior year at Potomac Falls this past spring -- as he struggled on the mound and his team managed just an 11-11 record -- he wasn't enjoying it much, either.
"I love the sport, love competing," Hartman said. "But I wasn't having any fun at all. Losing 11 games was too many. It was terrible. And what was worse was it got to a point where people didn't care if we won at all. It was tough playing with a team that got used to losing."
On Sunday afternoon on a pitching mound in Beckley, W.Va., Hartman took a moment to look around at his Greater Loudoun Babe Ruth 16-and-under teammates and smiled. Then it hit him: He was having fun again.
Hartman, a left-hander, was throwing better than he had in months, overwhelming previously undefeated opponents from Columbus (Ohio), 9-2, in the semifinals of the Beckley Tournament with speed, movement and control of his pitches. He also had similar success at the plate, going 11 for 20 with six doubles.
Greater Loudoun (6-2) went on to win the tournament title with a 9-7 victory over the Virginia Outlaws in the championship round.
"We saved Casey for that game against Columbus because that was a legit team," Coach Sam Plank said. "And he was awesome. He had an amazing tournament. I know he struggled a little bit during the high school season, but I think that was a combination of things. He had some control issues, and I think had lost a little bit of his velocity, but he also wasn't getting a lot of run support and wasn't being helped by so many errors behind him.
"Sunday he showed he's definitely got his velocity back. And you could see out there, too, that he's also got his confidence back. He seemed to have lost that mental edge a bit during the high school season, but he's got it back now."
Some of the pressure he faced this high school season was created by his own success as a sophomore. In 2003, Hartman earned All-Extra honors, leading the Panthers to victories in the Virginia AA Region II and Virginia AA tournaments. He finished 6-3 during that breakout sophomore season with a 2.85 ERA.
This spring, he pitched 60 or 70 percent of Potomac Falls's games because of a limited pitching staff, and he toyed with some new mechanics -- neither of which helped his statistics.
"I tried throwing more from the top instead of side-arm or three-quarter arm that I was used to, but I got shelled a couple of times because I left the ball over the plate," Hartman said. "And my arm was tired. I'd find myself out there some days just winging it."
So the first thing Hartman did after joining the Greater Loudoun team was rest, taking nearly two weeks off of the mound to work in center field and at the plate. When he resumed pitching, Hartman, who consistently throws 80 to 82 miles per hour, started mixing his throwing motion, going over the top sometimes but also employing his side-arm and three-quarter pitches.
He said plans to run several miles a day this summer to improve his leg strength -- and up his speed -- before going back to throwing completely over the top.
"I know there is a lot more work to do, but I've never shied away from that," Hartman said. "And I'm playing with a group of guys now who all want to win. That right there makes me want to work even harder.
"I can't wait for the rest of the summer."