Since her sophomore year at Frenchtown, it has been accepted that Morgan Ray was one of the elite softball players in Montana.
Now, she can be considered one of the best in the nation.
Ray was honored earlier this week as a West Region first-team All-American selection by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Ray was one of four pitchers on the squad, joining Californians Caitlyn Brooks, Carlie Lewis and Gia Rodoni.
The NFCA is a national organization that counts more than 4,300 members from the collegiate, high school and travel club ranks and selects All-American teams from the east, west, north, south and south central regions.
"It’s amazing, I think that it’s a big honor, definitely," said Ray, who is in the midst of a busy travel ball schedule before heading off to Ohio to join the Ohio State Buckeyes. "It makes me realize that all the hard work has paid off and people really do notice it."
For Ray, it is just the latest in a long list of awards.
Earlier this month, the Frenchtown pitcher became the first Montanan to be named Gatorade Softball Player of the Year three times – and just the fourth to win the award at least three times regardless of sport – when the sports drink company named her Montana's best player June 4.
Prior to that, Ray was selected Class A first-team All-State for the third time after helping guide the Broncs (24-2) to their third consecutive state championship. The 11-1 win over Belgrade, in which Ray allowed just three hits in a complete-game effort, was the school's 10th state title.
She was also named an All-American at the 2012 Triple Crown Sparkler tournament in Colorado, one of the nation's premier showcase events.
"It’s nice to keep being recognized," she said Tuesday evening. "(But) just because I won an award once doesn’t mean I don’t want to win it again. It’s nice to be widely recognized whether it be Gatorade or the All-American award."
Ray, who opened her final prep season with a perfect game against Corvallis, finished the year 19-2 with a 0.32 ERA. In 130 innings of work, she struck out 248 batters, allowing just 55 hits and 22 walks. She also hit seven home runs and drove in 33 runs while batting .553.
Ray's sterling senior year increased her career numbers to staggering totals. During her three years in the circle – she badly sprained her ankle as a freshman and missed most of the season – Ray was 56-4 with a sub-0.70 ERA and struck out 731 batters in 382.2 innings.
Her work at Frenchtown and on the ASA trail, where she competes with the Montana Avalanche and a team from Oregon, helped her gain the attention of some of the nation's top programs.
Despite the interest from nationally ranked Oregon, Florida State and Central Florida among others, Ray committed to the Buckeyes as a sophomore. Ohio State coach Kelly Kovach Schenly hoped to keep the Montana pitcher a relative secret, but with her most recent accolade the word on Ray as one of the nation's best is presumably out.
"It’s really hard to think of myself like that, but it’s nice to know that with all the work that I’ve put in and all the people who have helped me get where I am that it has actually brought me success," Ray said.
Scheduled to leave for Ohio in August, Ray has a busy ASA slate that will bring her around the Northwest as she prepares for her first collegiate season. She says she will use the summer to get stronger and add endurance, all the while honing her pinpoint accuracy.
"I kind of have to start fresh. I have a whole new step in my life," she said before adding that her main focus will be concentrating on getting ahead of batters early in the count.
Between her active schedule and her move to Ohio, Ray said she will get a few weeks to relax and enjoy her final few months in Montana.
"It’ll be nice to have a little bit of my summer before I leave," she said.