Former Lady Longhorn pitcher Rachel Ray, sidelined the entire past season by a back injury, has returned to the Southeastern Louisiana State University lineup with a vengeance.
In her first game back, Ray hurled the Lions to a 10-0 win over Southern in the opening round of the Lion Softball Classic, played at North Oak Park in Baton Rouge, La.
On Ray's way to the complete game victory, she hurled a three-hit shutout. Ray was a 2005 All-Southland Conference selection for SLSU, before missing 2006 with the injury.
Entering the ill-fated season, Ray was one of the Lion's top two pitchers. Without her and another top-notch pitcher in the lineup, the Lions fell to 10-36 for the year and finished tenth in the Southland Conference race.
This year, the Lions are off to an 8-3 start, their best since 1998.
"I'm having a good year," she said. "I start some games and I'm a closer in others."
Ray sports a 4-1 record with two saves.
The former Lady Horn pitching sensation, who was among those stranded during Hurricane Katrina, said the Louisiana area is gradually returning to normal.
"Right now, it's Mardi Gras season and that's another challenge," she said.
After a stellar softball career at PHS, Ray accepted a last-minute scholarship in 2004 to attend SLSU.
During her freshman season, she made 16 appearances for the Lions, finishing with a 5.61 ERA and a 0-3 record.
Although she struggled at times during her inaugural campaign, coaches said they were impressed with her improvement during the late going.
In 2005, she posted a 4-3 record with a 2.42 ERA and had one save in 19 appearances.
Her first collegiate victory was chalked up after four innings of three-hit relief in a 3-2 win over Texas Arlington.
Her performances in the late innings of clutch games earned her a reputation as one of the conference's top closers.
At PHS, she was a three-time, first-team, All-East choice. As a senior, she finished with a miniscule .88 ERA, was an all-state honorable mention selection and played in the Arizona Coaches Association All-Star game.
She also excelled academically, earning AIA Scholar-Athletes Awards.
At SLSU, she is majoring in nursing.