BELGRADE — Two pitchers that started their careers in the Gallatin Valley will now take the mound for two of the top Division I baseball programs in the country.
Evan Hamberger and Michael Freund committed to UConn and Oregon, respectively, after this past year in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
"You know, last year we were all in the NWAC, and both at jucos, and our futures were pretty uncertain," Freund explained. "And we just kept pushing through it. Now we’re here, so yeah. It’s pretty cool.”
The NWAC is the largest community college conference in the country. One where if you play well enough, you’ll make it to the Division I level.
And it's a journey they took part in simultaneously; Hamberger reflected on how their time in NWAC brought them together.
"Just the late night conversations in our juco dorm rooms, talking about where we want to go, what we’re going to do when we finally make it."
Well, they made it.
Hamberger’s baseball journey started with the Belgrade Bandits and then spent his senior year in Kansas playing baseball.
He landed on Spokane Falls to continue his playing career after high school, and that’s where he earned the Division I looks he’d always dreamed of.
"We had the NWAC showcase, which then really sparked my whole entire recruiting process at the Division I level, and I had a bunch of schools reach out, and I just went on a few visits and UConn just felt like home," Hamberger described the recruiting process and choosing the Huskies.
Freund was a state champion with the Bozeman Bucks. He graduated high school in 2019, then took a gap year from the game, enrolling at Montana State.
When COVID hit, he returned to playing baseball at Umpqua in Oregon — where he endured the setback of injury but persevered.
"I got injured in March of 2022, and switched to pitching because I hurt my left wrist, so I couldn’t hit," Freund explained. "And then in ‘23, I came back to Umpqua as a pitcher. I threw that whole year and got offered to play at Oregon on May 1st."
Anything you throw at the two, they find a way to come out stronger.
And their commitment was the moment they’ve been waiting for their whole life. The commitments to UConn and Oregon were a reflection of the years of hard work paying off.
"The last two years have been a blur honestly," Freund said. "I mean, we’ve just had our noses down and gone after it. Now that we both get to reap the benefits of that work, it’s pretty cool."
"It’s a dream come true, I know that kind of cliche to say, but you know it’s everything I’ve been working for," Hamberger said. "I mean, the end goal is obviously to play pro ball, but this is one step forward to the end goal, necessarily."
They both landed on their universities for the high level of play and avid fan bases.
Oregon claimed a Pac-12 championship last season, and was a game away in their Super Regional for a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
"Win a national championship," Freund explained his goal for this season. "I want to play for all the guys who were on that (2023) team, and all the seniors that had to go through that. So yeah, make it to Omaha and have success there."
UConn won their third straight Big East regular season title and made it to Regionals last season.
"They’re a top-10 school in the nation, and they’re the highest-ranking school I had," Hamberger described why he chose UConn. "They had the longest-standing coaching staff in the country, which was a big spark to me, I guess. I really like how it was a family culture there."
It’s one thing to have goals, another to achieve them. And these two personify hard work paying off.
"To never give up," Freund said when asked what he learned about himself throughout his baseball journey. "I kind of gave up after I graduated. I came back; I got injured. I could’ve given up then. I decided to keep pushing through."
Freund's final message is something all athletes can look up to.
"Never not chasing your dream is such an important thing because I don’t want to look back at life and say I could’ve done more."