Ray Zuberer struggled at the plate last season for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, but you would have never known it by the way he approached each game.
Despite batting an uncharacteristic .222, the former Owensboro Catholic High School star maintained his excellence afield, on the base paths and in the locker room as one of the Hilltoppers’ team leaders.
Now, as the 6-foot, 175-pounder prepares for his senior season, he as excited as ever about WKU’s chances to become a major contender in the race for a Conference USA championship.
“The main focus this year is our pitching,” Zuberer said on Tuesday. “This is the best staff we’ve had in my four years here. We have a lot of pitchers who can get the job done for us.
“All you can do is take it day by day, game by game, with the focus on winning every time you step on the field,” Zuberer said. “If you do that, a lot of success will come from it.”
Despite last year’s subpar batting average, Zuberer continued to be a major contributor for WKU — starting 53 of 54 games and finishing with seven home runs, nine doubles, 42 runs, and 28 RBIs.
He was second on the team in walks (28), tied for second in runs and homers, fifth in doubles, and tied for fifth in hits. He added 122 putouts and 20 assists, mainly from left field.
“I’m not worried about last year at all — that’s in the past,” Zuberer said. “I’m not worried about (batting) average, RBIs, things like that. I’m just focused on going out there every day and playing the best I know how — that’s really all you can do.”
This year, Zuberer — who bats left and throws right — is likely to make the move from left field to center field, and he’s looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun playing center,” Zuberer said. “Our outfielders have built a connection throughout the preseason, and I believe we’re going to work well together.
“I’ll play anywhere out there, hit anywhere in the lineup — I just want to play every day.”
Last year, despite multiple key injuries to the pitching staff, Western finished 26-29-1, including a 16-13-1 mark in C-USA. The Tops were powered by All-American outfielder Jake Sanford, the league’s triple crown winner with 22 homers, 66 RBIs, and a .398 batting average.
The Hilltoppers defeated Old Dominion in the opening round of the 2019 conference tournament, before falling to Florida Atlantic and UTSA.
As a WKU freshman, Zuberer started the team’s first eight games and then served an an infield-outfield reserve, batting .250. In his sophomore season, he started 36 of 44 games, batting .315 with three homers and three triples.
Now, Zuberer, who majors in exercise science, seems stoked for his final go-around on The Hill.
“I took a break from summer ball,” he said, “but I was griding it every day in the (batting) cage, lifting weights and getting stronger, more athletic, more explosive.
“I’m ready to go.”