COVINGTON, Ga. — When Eastside went into its region game against Clarke Central on Friday, there was one particular Lady Eagle on the cusp of making history.
Natalie Ray found herself on first base following a single in the bottom of the second inning. A few pitches later, Ray jetted and stole second base.
Ray’s stolen base against Clarke Central was her 75th career steal, which is now a program record at Eastside.
Just a day prior in Eastside’s doubleheader at Jackson County, Ray tied the program record for most stolen bases. So, Ray knew she only needed one to break the record. However, once she was deemed safe at second base, Ray didn’t get up thinking about the record at all.
“That wasn’t on my mind at the time that I broke the record,” Ray said. “Then, when they announced it, I was like ‘oh...yeah.’”
Nevertheless, Ray continuously worked toward accomplishing this goal once she learned it was in sight going into her senior campaign. Once she realized that she had broken the record, Ray said she was thrilled.
"It feels nice, but wish I could have more, though, since this is my last season," Ray said. "But this feel pretty nice."
She’s even caught the attention of her head coach.
Heather Wood highlighted the importance of Ray’s contributions to the softball program and its overall success.
“She’s a pillar on our team,” Wood said. “Her base running and her instincts, she’s worked on that for a long time. And she’s a leader for our team who really sets the tone. It’s almost like she’s a natural out there.”
Stealing bases at a high rate is impressive on its own. But, if Ray was unsuccessful at the plate, then breaking the record wouldn’t have been possible.
The senior lead-off hitter has a .536 batting average while recording seven home runs and 16 RBIs. So far this season, Ray has only not gotten on base once in a single game.
By consistently making herself a base runner, Ray positions herself to help put runs on the scoreboard. In fact, Ray has crossed home plate a total of 28 times to score runs for Eastside.
Ray’s run scored makes up 21% of the Lady Eagles’ 135 total runs scored in 2021.
So, it’s safe to say that Ray has helped lead Eastside to its 14-2 overall record at this point in the season.
Yet, Ray isn’t remaining content with what’s been done. She plans to continue to build on her senior statistics thus far all while cementing her legacy as a Lady Eagle.
Even so, Ray’s main motivation doesn’t stem from achieving individual accolades. It comes from a much more sentimental place.
“Our team needs those runs,” Ray said. “So, helping my team win games is most important right now.”