Freyer “starting over” in second year as Green Dragons are working to rebuild on the run


Jon Dickenson

Team members include, from left: Eli Freyer, Brayden Doan, Luke Luttrell, Jake Brewer, Jae’dyn Gist, Brody Owens, Jared Moore, Chris Rouse, Cameren Maples, Ethan Farley, Nate Montanaro, Gunnar Snelling, Matthew Nunez, Aiden Johnson, Donovan Montanaro, Kirk Brown and Baylor Varner.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Even though it’s his second season as the head baseball coach at Harlan High School, it feels a lot like a new start for Lee Freyer heading into the 2023 campaign.
The Green Dragons lost six of their 10 starters from last season, including four of their top six hitters and four of their top five pitchers, from last year’s 13-16 squad that fell to Harlan County in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament.
“Even thought it’s year two, it’s like starting over again,” Freyer said. “We have some players we know we can count on, but we have question marks at just about every position. We preach to them about coming out and competing every day.
“I go back to (former Harlan coach) Murph Howard when he talked about the five c’s — courage, concentration, consistency, confidence and control. All those words mean something in baseball language. That’s what it’s all about, coming out here and competing. They are giving It all they’ve got, and we’re trying to figure it out as we go.”
Harlan was hit especially hard on the mound with ace Dawson Irvin and his 4-4 record with a 2.53 earned run average moving back to Tennessee for his senior season. Evan Browning, with two wins and a 3.53 ERA , and John Bryson, with three wins and 22 innings pitched, both graduated.
Jared Moore, a sophomore right-hander, will likely take over as the Dragons’ ace after being limited to 26 innings and a 0-1 record last year in his second freshman season. Moore finished 6-4 with a 3.13 earned run average as the team’s workhorse on the mound in 2021.
“Jared is a very consistent strike thrower for us, probably the most consistent we’ve got,” Freyer said. “He’ll be our No. 1 guy. We’ve worked a lot on his off-speed pitchers. He relied more on the knuckleball because he didn’t trust his curve. He really threw light out against Lee in our scrimmage.”
Donovan Montanaro, a junior who plays quarterback for HHS in the fall, is the Dragons’ other experienced pitcher, posting a 2-1 mark last season with a 5.56 earned run average in 11 1/3 innings on the mound. Jaedyn Gist, a senior, will also see action on the mound this season.
Several middle school standouts from a year ago will take on big roles this season for the varsity squad, including freshmen Baylor Varner, Jake Brewer and Brody Owens, as well as eighth-grader Luke Luttrell. Aiden Johnson, a junior, will also see action on the mound.
“A lot of the younger ones are making the transition from middle school,” Freyer said. “Although this will be their first year in high school, they have been pitching a while.”
The Dragons’ top two hitters returning are Gist, in center field, and Montanaro, at second base.
Gist hit .338 last season with 57 steals in 60 attempts. He also recorded 24 hits and 12 RBI.
“Jaedyn is a phenomenal athlete,” Freyer said. “He’s going to be our leadoff guy, and we want him to set the tone. He can be in scoring position in a couple of pitches with his speed.”
Montanaro hit .301 last year and was second on the team in hits with 25 and first in RBI with 21. Owens and Brewer will also see action at second base.
“He’s a great athlete with a good arm and great hands,” Freyer said. “He’s a solid stick with some pop. We’re looking for consistency at the plate with Donovan.”
Varner takes on a big role as a freshman, replacing Browning at shortstop while hitting third in the order. Montanaro will shift from second when Varner pitches. Brewer can also play short.
“He’s played that position for a while and knows the ins and outs. He’s also a natural leader and that’s good to have at shortstop,” Freyer said.
Moore, who shared time at first base last season with Andrew Roark, will take over the job on a full-time basis this year after hitting .231 last season with 18 hits. Eli Freyer, an eighth grader, will also see action at first base.
“Jared has a great glove and is steady. He calms the infield down with his demeanor. He’s a good, hard-working kid,” Freyer said. “To be a sophomore, he’s one of our more experienced players. I expect big things out of him. He’s in the cleanup spot and is one of our top pitchers.”
There are several candidates at third base, and it appears one of the younger Dragons will win the job. Matthew Nunez, a sophomore, is in the mix, along with Freyer and Brewer and sophomore Nate Montanaro.
“We’re trying to figure it all out. We’re extremely young this year,” Freyer said. “We’re trying to figure out how some of these younger guys adjust to the speed of the game. They have played a lot of baseball and are baseball savvy. The speed of the game at this level is different. Matthew started our scrimmages and did a good job.”
With Noah Lewis graduating, the Dragons will turn to a committee at catcher, at least early in the season. Owens, Chris Rouse and Gist are the candidates to take over behind the plate.
“That’s two freshmen and a senior. That’s the leader of the infield. They make all the calls. It will be a learning process back there,” Freyer said. “Brody is really baseball smart and understands the game. He has a high baseball IQ, but this is his first year of playing catcher in a while. Chris blocks the ball well, and we’re still working on some receiving issues
Johnson, a junior who hit .230 last season with 17 hits, is a returning starter in left field.
“He made some great catches last year to help us win some games,” Freyer said.
Luke Luttrell, an eighth grader, is the early favorite to start in right field, with Brewer and Brayden Doan also capable of playing the position.
Cameren Maples, a senior, will see action in center field. Other reserve outfielders include Kirk Brown, Gunnar Snelling and Ethan Farley.
With defending champ Middlesboro losing an eight-man senior class last season, the 52nd District appears more open than it has in a few years.
“Middlesboro has won six in a row, but the teams in our district are always competitive,” Freyer said. “We’ve got more games scheduled this year so we can figure out the lineups and find the best position for everyone. We want to cut down on our strikeouts and continue to improve our defensive numbers, Once we do that, I think we’ll be fine. The team that throws the ball and catches the ball the best wins most of the games.”
Donovan Montanaro is back at second base for the Harlan Green Dragons after Montanaro after hitting .301 last year with 25 hits and a team-high 21 RBI. (Jon Dickenson)
Harlan senior center fielder Jaedyn Gist will leadoff for the Green Dragons this season after recording 57 steals a year ago while hitting .338. (Jon Dickenson)
Harlan sophomore Jared Moore is back to lead the Green Dragons’ pitching staff this season in his third season as a member of the rotation. (Chris Jones)