Harlan holds off late Bell County rally to win 52nd District title

Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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While history will show the Harlan Green Dragons broke a nine-year drought between 52nd District Tournament championships on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, coach Lee Freyer knows the process started much earlier.

“I’m so happy for these players and for this program,” Freyer said Tuesday after the Dragons’ 7-5 win over Bell County. “This district championship didn’t happen tonight. It happened last summer when we committed to the weight room, when we committed to the open fields, and when we adopted that blue collar work ethic. This group puts in a ton of work that most people will never see. I asked them at the beginning of the year. ‘How many of you want to win’? Almost every hand goes up. I followed that up with “how many of you are committed to the work that winning requires.” No hesitation — all hands go up. That’s when you know you have a special group.”

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The 22-11 Dragons raced to a 7-0 lead with the help of numerous Bell County mistakes. The Dragons had only two hits but capitalized on seven errors.

Harlan freshman left-hander Luke Luttrell pitched a four-hitter and gave up only two earned runs with three strikeouts and two walks.

“Luke did a phenomenal job on the mound tonight,” Freyer said. “He cruised through the early innings. He had to overcome some adversity late in the game. I am really proud of how his game has grown. Super proud of his composure and consistency tonight. “

Brody Owens had a two-run double to lead the Harlan offense. Eli Freyer added a single.

Cooper Brock, Jackson Walters, Hunter Fuson and Logan Greene had one hit each for the 16-8 Bobcats

“We did a really good job at the plate putting balls in play. We had a lot of competitive at bats,” Freyer said. “We jumped out on them early and continued to play solid defense. That’s the difference in this game. We made the plays when we had to.”

Brock suffered the loss as he allowed seven runs (two earned) on one hit with four strikeouts and three walks in three innings. Joseph Brigmon allowed one hit with seven strikeouts and no walks over four innings.

Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament at Knox Central.


Harlan 052 000 0 — 7. 2. 3

Bell County 000 102 2 — 5. 4. 7

Luttrell and Owens; Brock, Brigmon (4) and Brigmon, Walters (4). WP — Luttrell (5-2), LP — Brock.

Varner dominates as Dragons end district tourney drought

A week after clinching their first 20-win season in 10 years, the Harlan Green Dragons earned their first district tournament victory in nine years with a dominating 11-3 win last Monday over Harlan County in the first round of the 52nd District Tournament at Bell County High School.

Sophomore right-hander Baylor Varner cruised through 6 2/3 innings before reaching the pitch limit as he allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits with 14 strikeouts and four walks. Jared Moore recorded the final out.

“It was a great team win tonight. We executed all seven innings. All of our guys played with passion and played for each other,” Harlan coach Lee Freyer said. “We reached 20 wins the other night, which I believe is the highest total for a team in Harlan since HC won 22 back in 15. That milestone was great, but we knew we still had unfinished business. Harlan hasn’t been to region since 2015, and we wanted to change that narrative. These young men are the foundation to building a winning program here. “I am extremely proud of the effort, intensity and work ethic of all these young men.

Varner also led the Harlan offense with a double and two singles, driving in two runs and scoring two. Eli Freyer and Jared Moore added two singles each. Brody Owens and Aiden Johnson added one single each.

“Baylor had another stellar outing for us on the mound. He had command of his pitches all night and really plays with an elite level of confidence,” Freyer said. “Our defense played great behind him all night. When we do that, I feel like we can absolutely play with anyone.”

Alex Creech led the 16-15 Bears with a double. Tristan Cooper and Jesse Gilbert contributed singles.

Cooper suffered the loss as he gave up seven runs (six earned) on only four hits, but he could not overcome seven walks to go with nine strikeouts. Creech allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits in one inning. Gilbert pitched one shutout inning with a strikeout and a walk. Zayden Casolari allowed one run on two hits with two strikeouts in one inning.

“We knew Tristan Cooper is a really talented pitcher. Our guys really focused at the plate and remained disciplined. We focused on hitting fastballs and letting the breaking stuff go. We wanted to hunt the fastball all night,” Freyer said. “We got Tristan deep into some counts where we could swing at the pitches we wanted.”

Harlan will play Bell County on Tuesday at 7 for the 52nd District title. The Bobcats won both regular season meetings. The Dragons are making their first appearance in the district finals since defeating Harlan County 5-4 in the 2015 championship game. Harlan defeated Middlesboro in the 2007 finals. The Dragons haven’t lost a district championship game since falling to Cumberland in 2005.