Feb. 16, 2012

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Ray of light from the mound at Troy

By Andrew Krause



Tyler Ray’s 2011 season was remarkable.


“We went into each Friday night game knowing we had a great chance to win,” said long-time Troy head coach Bobby Pierce.


And win they did. As a junior last season, the Hoover, Ala. native went undefeated (12-0 in 16 starts) as the Troy Trojans’ ace. Furthermore, Ray was named the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year and was selected as a Third Team All-American by ABCA/Rawlings and Second Team All-American by Louisville Slugger. 


Although Ray’s dominance in 2011 may have surprised some unfamiliar with the Troy program, he had shown flashes of brilliance for years both on the diamond and gridiron.  An all-around great athlete, Ray starred at quarterback for national powerhouse Hoover High School, but slid under the radar on the diamond.


“He was overlooked by other schools because he spent much of his summers preparing for football,” Pierce said. “He had a smaller frame, but I liked what I saw. He had a lot of poise, a quick arm, and well above-average command for somebody his age.”


Ray quickly established himself on the mound and was Troy’s Friday night starter by the third week in his freshman season.


“I was the only freshman in my recruiting class. I came in with a number of JUCO players, so I really had to grow up and mature quickly.”


In the end, his football pedigree may have helped Ray transition into the intense college baseball environment.


“I really think that his experiences as a quarterback at Hoover helped him to remain poised on Friday nights as a true freshman,” Pierce said. Ray performed admirably as his 7-3 record and 4.60 ERA earned him Sun Belt Freshman-of-the-Year honors.


As a sophomore Ray went 8-4 in 16 starts, but both he and Coach Pierce were not happy with his performance (5.34 ERA). 


“I was average. I just couldn’t seem to get things clicking,” Ray said.


Pierce added, “His sophomore year was not quite what we had hoped, but he came back as different guy after his summer in the Cape Cod League.” 


While Ray struggled during the NCAA season, he put together a very solid summer for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and was also the winning pitcher for the Cape Cod League All-Star Game. Pierce attributes Ray’s success to his work ethic.


“Tyler always worked hard, but when he went up there he saw guys like (former UCLA star Trevor) Bauer working out, he came back and took it to the next level.”


Clearly, Ray’s vigorous work ethic paid huge dividends in 2011.


While Ray is not an overpowering type of pitcher, he offers four quality pitches in his fastball (89-92 mph), slider, curve, and changeup.


“He has the ability to make changes within a game and he can throw his four pitches in any count and in any situation,” said his pitching coach Brad Phillips.


Although his specific game plan may vary with different line-ups, Ray stays consistently aggressive.


“I take a lot of pride in making people earn it. I do not have the best stuff in the league, but I don’t want to give anything away.”


His strong command (only allowed 16 walks in his 116.2 IP) and aggressive approach allowed him to work deep into games as he finished the year with three complete games and averaged 7.1 innings per start, an invaluable yet often overlooked quality in starting pitchers.


“When you’re getting 7-plus innings every single Friday, it really clears up things for the weekend and helps out the bullpen and the entire team,” Phillips said.


Spurred by Ray’s stellar Friday night performances, the Trojans enjoyed a fine season going 43-19, winning the Sun Belt Conference Championship and advancing to the Nashville Regional before being eliminated after losses to Vanderbilt and Belmont.


So where does Ray go from here? The expectations are higher than ever, even for a former Hoover High QB, as Ray was recently selected as a Preseason First Team All American by the NCBWA. While the entire Trojan community would undoubtedly embrace another undefeated season from their ace, his head coach refuses to speak about any specific numbers.


“I don’t have any real expectations for Tyler this year,” Pierce said. “I just want him to prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally for each game. If he does that he will do just fine.”


Likewise, Phillips added: “He’s made up of all the right things…He’s consistent, competitive, and has a business-like approach. All I’ve done is basically stay out of his way.”


Clearly, those close to the program are quite comfortable that similar results are on the horizon and given how well Ray has performed and developed over his career, one would be hard-pressed to disagree.


(photos courtesy of Troy Media Relations Office)