With two straight Gatorade Player of the Year banners bearing her name on the walls of Frenchtown High and a stellar senior season in the books, Morgan Ray's bid for a three-peat was more than possibility.
The senior Bronc wasn't counting on it, though, not with the competition she saw in her final year of prep action. She wouldn't take No. 3 for granted.
"I think it's even more special for me because there's so many really good softball players around Montana," she said. "And every year they just get better."
Ray was named Montana's Gatorade Player of the Year for softball for a third straight season Thursday, pairing all three of her State A titles in a Broncs uniform with POY honors.
She is the first three-time winner for softball in state history and only the fourth ever to earn the accomplishment along with three runners. Kalispell Flathead's Zoe Nelson (2003-05) won three in track and field and Bozeman's Heidi Turner (2008-10) did it in cross country.
Bigfork's Makena Morley is the lone four-time winner, sweeping 2011-14 in cross country. The Gatorade award is in its 30th year.
Ray, a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, posted a 19-2 record along with a 0.32 ERA in the circle this past season, leading the Broncs (24-2) to a third straight state title.
Ray, a future Ohio State Buckeye, struck out 248 batters in 130 innings, allowing just 55 hits and 22 walks. At the plate, the three-time Class A first team all-state selection batted .553 with seven home runs, 33 RBIs and a .953 slugging percentage.
Those are all gaudy numbers, coach Eli Field said, but this year more than any other the field was creeping up on his standout.
"We won't say surprised but both Morgan and I talked about Ali (Williams); she had a great year," Field said of Kalispell Glacier's all-state pitcher. "What we thought was there were people that were probably as deserving as her. That made it nice."
Williams certainly fit the bill. The junior pitcher had 272 strikeouts with a 1.36 ERA and went 20-3 in helping Glacier to its first ever State AA championship. One of those losses came against Ray's Broncs, though, a 3-1 pitching duel on April 21 in Kalispell.
"I truly believe she made softball in Montana better," Field said. "She made opponents better because they knew they had to reach her level if they even wanted a chance to compete."
Her tenacity in the circle made her a one-of-a-kind athlete in western Montana, rival coach Larry Smith said.
"Morgan is the best that we've faced as far as consistency, great control, good speed and she throws all the pitches," said Smith, the veteran head coach at Polson. "Her batting skills, she's a tough out. She can hit the ball anywhere in the zone."
Ray graduated from Frenchtown High on Sunday with a 4.0 GPA in the classroom. A member of the student council, she volunteered locally at a food bank and with Mountain Home Montana, a program that provides housing to young mothers and their children.
She leaves the Frenchtown program in good hands. Though four Broncs graduated, six juniors will be seniors next spring with a chance to go 4 for 4 with state titles.
It's a lofty goal, sure, but not too out of reach considering Frenchtown has earned a top-three state finish in each of the past 14 years across Class A and B competition.
"I think our coaching staff is amazing and any group of girls will do very well," Ray said. "I think this year was the 11th year (under Field and his assistants) and ever since they've gotten here, that program has only gone up and up and up."
Ray has a handful of club softball tournaments scheduled for this summer with her local Montana Avalanche team and the Portland-based Oregon Bullets before heading for Columbus, Ohio in late August.