Howard Dobson isn’t trying to be mean.
The LSU hitting coach is on good terms with third baseman Tammy Wray. It’s a requirement of the job and time spent tweaking minute movements inside a batting cage.
But for the first two months of this season, Dobson’s had a blunt assessment of the senior’s hitting fortunes.
“For a while, she wasn’t the one I was going to take with me to the casino,” Dobson said. “She didn’t have anything for luck.”
A .142 batting average and puny .238 slugging percentage stood as evidence of a struggle — one in which even sharply hit balls seemed to be right at someone with a glove.
“There for a while,” Wray said. “it didn’t matter what I did.”
So even Dobson can laugh at the irony now as the Tigers (35-22) prepare to face Louisville (36-20) at 7:30 p.m. Friday to open the Tuscon Regional of the NCAA tournament.
A key catalyst in the Tigers’ resurgent offense down the stretch is none other than Wray, who’s hitting .403 and slugging .590 to go with 14 RBIs over the past 23 games.
“She just made the decision,” coach Beth Torina said. “She decided she was going to be the hitter she was capabale of being.”
So any discussion of tearing down or overhauling’s Wray’s swing is futile.
Dobson, who came to Baton Rouge two years ago after four seasons leading Southern Miss, said cage work focused largely on keeping Wray driving forward with her legs. Instead of driving the ball when her bat slashed through the zone, “she was splicing it,” Dobson said.
“We tried to get her to stay in her legs a little bit more, keep her grounded,” Dobson said. “She wanted to come out of her legs, so whenever she hit things the force wasn’t behind the ball as long.”
The timing of Wray’s turnaround isn’t hard to plot: She went back to her home state. The Somers, New York, native built momentum in two games at Hofstra — an hour’s drive from her hometown — during the second week of April. In six games that week, she went 11 of 21, homered once and drove in nine runs over seven games.
It coincided with another realiztion that she was running out of itme.
“Definitely,” she said. “I need to lay everything out on the field.”
Granted, that’s about the same time LSU as whole started zeroing in their swings. More than tweaks or seeing familiar faces, Wray is quick to say she simply picked up confidence from the rest of the order.
“Putting my trust in everybody else,” Wray said. “If I don’t get my job done, then they’ll get theirs done. The more succes they had, it uplifted me and kept me positive.”
Dobson is quick to note Wray had the raw traits, arriving at LSU as a top-25 recuit. Or that Wray’s freshman season, during which she hit .247 with eight home runs and 33 RBI, showed her promise.
But back-to-back in which she hit below .200 convinced Wray — a .943 fielder at third — that defense was her sole role.
“I just kept falling back on that,” Wray said. “Then I just let the hitting come. I’ve (put) in the extra work, worked super hard, buying into all the plans all the coaches give us. Then it just kind of clicked.”
But operating out of the No. 7 hole in the order can be grunt work.
Wray’s numbers the past three weeks have been a study in steadiness. She’s hitting .464, most of he success coming on singles.
“I don’t want to get big for my own head,” Wray said. “I still want to do what I can — move runners, lay down a bung if I’m told do it — and keep doing the small things.”
Still, it’s an easy modesty Dobson can more than back.
“She’s one of my proudest moment,” he said. “Just seeing what’s she’s done the last month and a half.”
Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter @MHarrisAdvocate.