Ray Lewis was one of the most recognizable runners at the Cape-Atlantic League Cross Country Championships last fall, but he was nowhere to be found in the final results. That’s because the Absegami senior was running in the junior varsity race. An injury as a sophomore set his cross country career back and he never full regained the potential he showed as a freshman, but that didn’t stop Lewis from having the best time he could in one of the last races of his career. He wore a headband, and came across the finish line with outstretched arms as if he had just won the New York City Marathon.

Lewis brought that same kind of passion and positive energy to the Braves’ baseball program the past four years, and he and 11 other seniors helped make new coach Mike DeCicco’s first season a memorable one. The Braves went 16-6, tied for the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference championship with Mainland, and beat Mainland in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs before losing to Cherry Hill West.

“Ray Lewis is an amazing kid. He did bat eighth in the lineup, but he’s one of our better hitters. He hit better than .300 with a .430 on-base percentage. He batted fourth for us when he was a junior. Our lineup, once we set it, it was kind of the same all year. He was struggling a little bit in the preseason and we decided to put him down in the lineup because people didn’t know much about him,” DeCicco said. “He used to be a shortstop, and it was between him and Jason Rapisardi, so we decided to leave Rapisardi at short and move Ray to second. He was huge for us. To win at this level, you need guys like Ray, who may not be playing in college but he’s a bright kid, a team-oriented kid, and he’s battled tested. He made a lot of plays for us when we needed them, and that’s all you can ask from any ballplayer.”

In one of the final regular-season games, Absegami trailed Mainland 11-3 late in the game, but Lewis came bounding off the field, encouraging his teammates not to give up, that they were still in this game. Mainland eventually did win the game, but not before Lewis and his teammates rallied to cut the final score to 11-7. That kind of never-give-up attitude came to define Lewis’ career at Absegami.

“Freshman year, I was getting pretty fast (in cross country), but then I had an injury sophomore year and I wasn’t as good as I used to be. But, I recognized the other side of the sport, which is to just enjoy what you’re doing. It’s high school, and if you’re not enjoying it, what’s the point of being on the team? This year, I had the mentality that I was going to push myself as much as I could, but I was also going to take in the moments and enjoy that I was running with my friends and running for one of the greatest cross country coaches in Mr. (Brian) Tickle. I really did enjoy myself,” said Lewis, who plans to pursue a degree in journalism and media at Rutgers University beginning this fall. “I think this (baseball season) goes to show how this group of guys we played with grew as a family. From the beginning of the year to now, we had a bunch of injuries, but we grew closer and it shows the character of everyone. I’m very grateful to have been part of such a great group of guys.

“One of my mindsets is that you’re not going to get anything done if you’re being negative about it,” he continued. “You’re not going to come back from being down 11-3 if you’re saying, ‘what’s the point?’ In tough situations — like, say we’re up 4-2 and a guy hits a double to bring the tying run to the plate, what’s negativity going to get you? So, I really think keeping calm and taking a step back, and realizing there’s a way to come back from anything, I think that’s how you win big games, and even the small battles. Positivity is what drives teams to success.”

“It’s a testament to him and the other kids that they never quit, and Ray was a major part of that. He wears these aviator sunglasses around school and he has this strut. He’s an amazing kid and I’m going to miss him a lot. Ray absolutely is a guy I’ll miss a ton,” DeCicco said. “(Former coach Brian) Wastell said this about Rudy (Kreutzer), that he has absolutely maxed out his high school experience, and I feel the same about Ray. And a lot of these kids, they are maxing out their four years in high school, and that’s all you can ask for. Don’t have any regrets, don’t leave anything in the tank — live it to the fullest, and we have a lot of kids like that. There are so many of them, and it’s been awesome.”
More than any big win the Braves might have had, Lewis said what he’ll remember most about his career is the friendships he made along the way.

“The coolest thing is just to play with my brothers on the team. The friends I made through high school baseball, everyone on the team, it was cool to play ball with them and develop relationships in the hallways and classrooms. What we made on the field, the friendships, they didn’t stop there. They continued after school, seeing each other in the hallways and doing our little baseball handshake — that was the coolest thing about this year,” he said. “I’m going to miss just going out there and enjoying myself with everyone. A majority of the time, just laughing with each other and making jokes, and bonding, that’s what I’ll miss most. As I go off to college and meet a bunch of new people, I’ll make new friends, but the people I had this year were something special. I’m going to miss that, and I’m grateful I was a part of it.”

The son of Bill and Dawn Lewis will be joining older sister Maddie at Rutgers in a few months, and Ray said it’s still hard to believe his high school career went by so quickly, even though many warned it would.

“Two years back, people would always tell me it goes by fast, and you’ll blink and your high school career will be gone,” Lewis said. “That couldn’t be more true, it really has gone by fast. But I’m so blessed and grateful for everything that I’ve been a part of.”

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