All-Area Softball Player of the Year: Superior’s Emma Raye is ‘the total package’
The Spartans junior led her team to its first victory in the Wisconsin state tournament since 1978.
SUPERIOR — During the top of the seventh inning of Superior’s home playoff game against Wausau East May 24, junior catcher Emma Raye noticed a runner drifting off first base.
Raye caught the pitch and in a smooth motion she fired the ball down the first base line to Indigo Fish and picked off the runner.
The move not only got a runner off the basepaths. With two outs already and a 6-0 lead, Raye ended the game for the Spartans.
“She’ll give me a side-eye and the runners just don’t see it coming in,” Fish said. “As soon as I see that the pitch has gone into Emma’s glove and the girl didn’t swing, I just get to the base and she throws it.”
Nine times this season, Raye picked a runner off base and so feared is her arm that even teams with a lot of speed have to change their strategy.
“On offense, one weapon is stealing bases and if she limits that, they have to change what they do,” Superior coach Mike Sather said. “If they’re changing, it’s going to help us — it’s basically taking a weapon away from any offensive team.”
Kaukauna — a team that has won 51 straight games and the last two Wisconsin Division 1 championships — topped the Spartans 10-0 in the state semifinal in Madison. Coach Tim Roehrig said the Ghosts have “tremendous” team speed, but they knew exactly how dangerous Raye is behind the plate and still she was able to pick off one of their runners.
“The one thing that Emma did was we had to think with her on how we were going to do things and that was the one catcher we faced all year long that we had to do that,” Roehrig said. “She was tremendous, she’s got a cannon for an arm, a quick release. All the things you’d want in a really good catcher, she’s got them all.”
Even more dangerous to opposing runners is Raye’s motion, which looks as if it’s going back to pitcher Haley Zembo, whether she’s going to Fish at first or all the way to second.
“I know the range of when people get off base that I know for sure that I can pick them off,” Raye said. “When I see them taking lazy leads or walking back to first I definitely know that I can get them.”
Raye led Superior to its first win in the Wisconsin state tournament since 1978. Along the way, she batted .506 with 24 RBIs and six home runs and was named the Wisconsin Division 1 Player of the Year and was named the Superior Telegram All-Area Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Now Raye, a Wisconsin commit, can add Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of Year to her growing list of honors.
When she was small, Raye would accompany her parents to the fields when they were playing slow pitch softball. She played T-ball in the Superior Youth Organization (SYO) and, after a flirtation with gymnastics, Raye came back for softball and quickly realized she was “pretty decent at it.”
“I was playing 12U in the SYO as an eight-year-old, so I thought that was pretty good,” Raye said. “That’s when I started playing more competitive softball and from there, it was just my passion.”
As she continued to grow, Raye joined the Twin Ports Rampage and she became a regular at the organization’s winter practice facility in the old Sammy’s Pizza building on Tower Avenue in Superior.
“I would spend probably 12 hours a week there in the winter because I just loved it so much,” Raye said. “I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I just came and worked out because I wanted to get better. Then I always had this competitive instinct because of my brother —he played baseball. He and I wanted just wanted to be better than each other.”
Raye’s brother, Ethan Raye, just completed his freshman year playing baseball at St. Scholastica.
“As long as I’ve known Emma, she’s been the competitive type,” Ethan said. “She doesn’t like losing, doesn’t like being beaten by anybody…That mentality really has helped her out, especially in the last couple of years. Growing up as siblings, we’d always compete with each other. Whether it’s board games or anything like that, we were always competing against each other, which pushed me and pushed her.”
Sather said Raye has plenty of natural ability she was born with, but she’s also put in the time to improve.
“You have that combination of God-given abilities, the enjoyment of playing the game and she’s also not afraid to work hard at trying to get better,” Sather said. “She’s such a competitor. It doesn’t matter what she plays — it doesn’t matter if it’s golf, a card game or whatever, she wants to win. There’s no doubt she’ll try as hard as she can to win. She doesn’t take anything off.”
A leader ‘in the trenches’
While Raye is a tremendous talent, she’s more than that for the Spartans.
Zembo, a Winona State commit and a second team All-State selection, is one of the top pitchers in the area, but even when she is struggling her catcher is there for her.
“She knows what I’m throwing well that day, how I feel, what’s going well and how to pick me up whenever I’m down,” Zembo said. “If something’s not going well — if a pitch isn’t working the way it should — she knows how to correct me.”
Sather knows Zembo pitches better when Raye is catching and her leadership is a big help to him during the game.
“Haley feels very, very comfortable with Emma there,” Sather said. “Emma talks to her all the time, encourages her and is very positive with her, which is a super thing. It’s great that she takes that responsibility on her shoulders because it just makes it easier for me…Sometimes players get tired of listening to their coaches, but when you’ve got someone in the trenches with you, it makes a big difference.”
When Zembo does make a mistake, she has perhaps the best catcher in the state to stop runners on the base paths.
“Even if I just walk someone or I just gave up a hit, she’ll pick me up and throw them out,” Zembo said. “I know she always has my back and even if something little happens, she’ll come back and get them out.”
Raye is “one of those unicorns,” according to Roehrig. He said he watched so much tape of Superior preparing for their matchup in the state tournament that he got “sick” of looking at the players swing — except Raye.
“You can watch her over and over again, you always see something new, you see a flash that you didn’t see before — that’s how good she is,” Roehrig said. “You’re not going to get many like her, she’s a special kid. I love the way she plays the game, she’s got a great temperament and a great mentality on how she prepares for and handles the game. She’s got the total package.”