Jeffrey Ray immediately emerged as a cornerstone under a new Lompoc High baseball regime.
The senior finished as one of three Braves who swung his way to a .400 batting average (.407 according to MaxPreps). He additionally led the way in hits (37), doubles (nine), triples (four) and was one of three LHS players who smashed a home run – all while adjusting to new head coach Brian Aguailar.
Ray’s efforts have earned him All-Area co-Most Valuable Player honors by Lee Central Coast Newspapers.
“It’s pretty crazy. Really amazing,” Ray said by phone once he learned he’s sharing co-MVP honors. “I didn’t get the league MVP, but I get this one – which is better.”
Ray provided a spark for a Lompoc team that got involved in a three-way tangle for the Los Padres League title with Santa Ynez and Templeton for most of the league season. The Eagles eventually won the LPL baseball title outright with the Pirates following in second, but LHS did enough to clinch a CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoff berth.
And Ray didn’t join the Braves baseball team right away. He was running the point guard spot for a Braves boys basketball team that stretched its season to the CIF State Division IV playoffs.
As Ray was trying to get his baseball legs back, he was also trying to get used the coaching philosophy of Aguailar after spending his last few seasons getting coached up by his predecessor Jim Allen. Ray, though, said he and the former Braves baseball standout Aguailar immediately meshed on and off the field.
“He’s actually a funny guy, but he’s all about baseball,” Ray said. “He tells stories all the time. Energy was what he taught us. He told us that we had to ride the roller coaster straight. If we pushed forward more, we would get things going right.”
Ray and the Braves started their pursuit of a postseason berth during the time frame of March 15 to April 17 – when Lompoc rolled to a nine-game winning streak. In six of those games, Ray chipped in two hits or more, including a four-hit outing against 2017 CIF-SS Division 6 champion Santa Maria.
Ray said Aguailar and his new regime quickly brought new enthusiasm for the program – including bringing in field upgrades.
“They changed the program,” Ray said. “They put in a lot of effort into the field, into practice, everything.”
Ray saw a new shed that stored equipment, plus a new outfield fence. Changes to the field weren’t the only thing that brought baseball enhancements around Ray. His level of play received its own jolt with a new head coach, he says.
“They saw the talent in me – and made me work. I’m thankful for them,” Ray said.
Ray won’t stop playing baseball anytime soon. He tells The Times that he’s planning to suit up for Hancock College to play baseball. He’s been in conversations with head coach Chris Stevens at AHC about either playing shortstop or second base.