A terrifying colossus stalks the woods and hillsides behind Glenvar High School.
Clad in green, the four-headed beast protects its home turf from all intruders.
Visitors to Glenvar’s campus give chase, clutching metal clubs that might as well be toothpicks.
Don’t bother scouring the landscape for footprints.
The pitching staff on Glenvar’s baseball team is a real monster.
The proof lies in the numbers the Highlanders have produced en route to a 15-0 record so far this spring.
With the foursome of senior Kevin Steele, Zach Duncan, Connor Watt and Matthew Pulliam handling the bulk of the work on the mound, Glenvar has a microscopic team ERA of 1.23 with five shutouts and three other victories with just one run allowed.
Glenvar has a long tradition of producing outstanding pitchers, and not much changed after Billy Wells became the Highlanders coach in 2008.
“I’ve been blessed since I’ve been here, having a lot of arms, kids that know how to pitch,” Wells said.
Heading into Friday’s Three Rivers District game at 11-1 Radford, junior right-hander Duncan rates as the ace of Glenvar’s staff with 58 strikeouts and a 0.81 ERA in 34 1/3 innings.
Watt, another junior, has 34 strikeouts and a 1.56 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. Pulliam, a sophomore, has a 1.10 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.
Steele, the lone senior of the foursome, has a 3.77 ERA in 16 1/3 innings, but his season has been hampered by four separate injuries.
Duncan pinpointed one factor as the key to Glenvar’s pitching success.
“Experience,” he said. “I’ve been playing travel ball since I was 10. Some games keep you humble, but there’s not too much nervousness.”
Glenvar’s defense figures mightily into the equation.
“It’s a huge factor,” Duncan said. “I can throw it right down the middle and trust my defense to make the play.”
Glenvar’s pitching staff has issued 35 walks in 971/3 innings, and they have struck out 153. Wells does not mind seeing his defense go to work.
“Of course, it helps to have high strikeout totals,” Wells said. “If your pitchers are striking out four batters a game, you have to get 17 outs by fielding and throwing the ball.
“For us, pitching to contact is not as big an issue. Sometimes, your defense can be so porous you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to strike guys out.’ ”
Wells allows veteran catcher Brandon Smith to call most of the pitches from behind the plate. Armed with a scouting report of opposing batters’ tendencies attached to his wrist.
Wells said he prefers not to call pitches from the dugout because it slows the pace of the game.
“To me, it gets your defense flat-footed,” Wells said. “We try to keep the game pretty fast-paced to let them call the pitches. The kids in the field love that, too. It gives them a little ownership. They enjoy that.”
Wells was a pitcher at Glenvar in the mid-1970s. He delegates most of the day-to-day duties working with the mound staff to assistant coach Jeremy Cromer, an All-Group A pitcher for the Highlanders in 2000.
“I’m not in that ego thing as a coach where I think everybody’s got to pitch my way,” Wells said. “To me, you end up ruining more kids and their arms by trying to change them.
“What I do for them more than anything is on the mental side of the game, pitching strategies and count strategies.”
Wells’ formula working with pitchers resulted in Glenvar reaching the 2013 Group A Division 2 state final.
Steele was a key part of the 2013 team as a sophomore. This season, Steele was ticketed for a major early role before spraining the wrist on his pitching hand in March while attempting a dunk during a pickup basketball game.
Steele was shut down briefly early in the season with biceps tendinitis. Then he closed a finger in a car door during spring break. When the senior returned to the mound, he was struck on the foot by a line drive.
The Roanoke College recruit’s teammates have more than picked up the slack.
“They’re doing a really good job, especially Pulliam coming up as a sophomore,” Steele said. “I give all props to the coaching staff. We have a really hardworking pitching staff, working in the offseason.”
Glenvar might need the most out of its pitching staff to make a deep postseason run.
The 2014 season ended abruptly in the first round of the Group 2A West regional tournament when the bats fell silent in a 3-2 loss to Dan River at Kiwanis Field.
Glenvar’s 15-game win streak this spring includes victories by scores of 4-3, 3-1, 2-1 and 3-0. The outlier this year was Tuesday’s 13-8 win at Giles.
Each victory feeds the beast. So far, the undefeated record hasn’t been an albatross.
“I don’t think we’re feeling any pressure about being undefeated,” Watt said. “If we get a loss, it will be disappointing, but I think it would just make us work that much harder.”