Past examples influence Southeastern outfielder Nick Ray’s present
HAMMOND, La. – Most freshmen would have been insulted by the notion that they weren’t ready to play college baseball. Riding the bench for 56 games, not counting the postseason, would immediately put them on a downward spiral.
But when the Southeastern baseball coaches offered him a redshirt, outfielder Nick Ray saw things differently.
He recognized the opportunity to spend more time developing his skills, adjusting to the game’s quicker pace, and most importantly, learning what it means to be part of the Lion baseball program.
During his first year on campus, the native of Jefferson, Louisiana, worked hard to develop a more consistent and poised approach at the plate. Eventually, Lions head baseball coach Matt Riser began to realize his true potential.
Since the infield would be set until at least his junior year, Riser imagined that the former Jesuit High School (New Orleans) shortstop would occupy a corner-outfield spot.
And it didn’t hurt that he shared similar traits with one of the most dominant outfielders in recent history, Ryan Byers.
“They are very similar players as far as their athleticism. They are very similar in who they are as everyday players, the way they go about their business,” Riser said. “They work extremely hard in the weight room, they play extremely hard and they just have no fear.”
Although Ray modeled his physical playing style after Byers, he followed the advice of another outfielder on the more cerebral aspects.
He turned to his teammate, 2018 All-Southland Conference performer Drew Avans.
Avans began mentoring his eventual successor during spring practice last season, when he would offer basic tips in the outfield. Then came his guidance on effective base-running techniques and reducing the typical freshman jitters.
When Avans left to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, the pair remained close. They participated in private hitting sessions throughout the fall, allowing Ray to put forth the extra effort to build a case for a starting role in 2019.
Riser had already begun to entertain that thought, but Ray still needed to prove that he wanted to be the Lions’ everyday left-fielder.
“It was about two weeks before the season,” Riser said. “You could just see something different. The swings were extremely aggressive, and he had a demeanor about him. I told [coaches Tim Donnelly and Andrew Gipson] that he might be in the opening day lineup.”
Ray made himself known to the Southeastern fans in a rather loud way, too.
Feb. 19 at LSU, he led off the second inning by launching the first home run of his career over the left-field wall. Just over a month later, he belted three home runs in the series opener against Abilene Christian. He became the first Lion batter to do so since shortstop Justin Boudreaux in 2010.
He subsequently earned the Southland Conference Player of the Week honor, after collecting four extra-base hits and 10 RBI. His Friday night masterpiece also resulted in a nomination for the Golden Spikes Performance of the Week, along with Tristan Peterson (New Mexico State), Josh Hood (Pennsylvania), and Troy Alexander (Little Rock). He came in second, receiving 41 percent of the votes.
“It was an honor [to receive both awards],” Ray said with a proud smile. “I never thought it would happen, and the fact that it came true is awesome.”
With those accolades already under his belt, Ray could easily be smug about his performance.
But he constantly remembers a lesson he learned while watching other players from the dugout.
“You have to control the things you can,” Ray said. “You’re going to get out or you’re going to get a hit, but you just have to remain calm on and off the field. Don’t show anybody what’s going on inside.”
He also readily acknowledges that nothing about his recent success was handed to him. Rather, he achieved every bit by leaning on his passionate work ethic and conquering the daily struggle to believe in himself.
“It gives me confidence in everything I do, honestly,” Ray said. “Whether it’s school or a future job, I have learned that no matter how hard you work, just focus on what you want to gain and it will come true.”
Riser takes great pride in the fact that he will have Ray on the roster for another four or five years, because of the talent he brings to the program.
He is a power hitter, but his four triples are tied for the Southland Conference lead. In conference games, his .463 on-base percentage ranks third in the Southland and his .600 slugging percentage is fifth highest.
But Ray’s impact can be most clearly seen in the way he provides a quiet example for his Lion teammates, a tribute to those who did the same for him.
“The game means a lot to him, and he just wants to win,” fellow outfielder Nathan Pilutti said. “He wants everyone to do well and he gives us his all.”
Single-game tickets can be purchased online at www.LionSports.net/Tickets or by contacting the Southeastern Athletics Ticket Office at (985) 549-5466. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Fridays. The ticket booth at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field opens exactly one hour before first pitch.
General Admission tickets for Lion home games are $9 for adults and $6 for children (ages 3-12). Southeastern students are admitted free with a valid university ID card.
CLEAR BAG POLICY
Southeastern Athletics has instituted a clear bag policy for all ticketed events, effective with the start of the 2018 fall semester. The policy mirrors safety precautions taken upon entrance to professional and collegiate sporting venues throughout the country. For more information on the clear bag policy, visit www.LionSports.net/Clear.
LIONS GAMEDAY EXPERIENCE APP
The new Lions Gameday Experience app puts audio, stats, video, social media and more in the hands of fans. Those in attendance can also check in to earn reward points redeemable for Southeastern-related prizes. Available for both Android and iOS devices, it can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.
DIAMOND CLUB / S CLUB
Fans interested in becoming active supporters of the baseball program are encouraged to join the Diamond Club. Lion baseball alums are encouraged to join the exclusive S Club, which is restricted to Southeastern athletic letter winners.
All membership fees and donations to both the Diamond Club and S Club (baseball) are available for the exclusive use of the Southeastern baseball program. Membership information is available by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at [email protected] or (985) 549-5091 or visiting www.LionUp.com.
For more information on Lions Baseball, follow @LionUpBaseball or @MattRiser17 on Twitter, @LionUpBaseball on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.
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