Whenever Lakeview Academy needed a big win, Deuce Roark knew to call on Ralston Cash.
When his team faced rival and then-sixth-ranked Athens Academy on March 30, Roark tabbed Cash as his starter, and the right-hander delivered a no-hitter.
In the second round of the Class A playoffs against Bremen, when the Lions needed to get that first win to improve their odds of winning the series, Roark called on Cash again. This time, the rising senior responded with a 10-strikeout performance in the Lions’ 4-3 win.
You could say Cash was money all year for Lakeview.
“Really he pitched every big game we had,” Roark said. “We counted on him to be that type of pitcher, the guy you can count on to go out there and put you in a position to win each time.”
Cash lived up to those expectations by going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings pitched for Lakeview Academy. For that, combined with his efforts with the bat, Cash is The Times 2009 Baseball Player of the Year.
“I was successful because of my defense,” Cash said. “They made plays left and right. I could throw anything and they could hit anything and my defense would make the play.”
While he credits the defense behind him for his success, Cash knows that the main reason he had so much success this year is because of his offseason workouts, which include playing with the East Cobb Braves.
“I pitched in big games all last summer against good teams that from 1-9 in the order could hit,” he said.
Facing that caliber of opponents also provided Cash with lessons in dealing with pressure.
“Pressure is something that gets me going; it’s like a little energy drink,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t deal with pressure that well and I learned how to deal with it.”
He’s still learning, and over the summer he’s getting first-hand lessons from his Braves’ teammates as they compete in tournaments around the country. Currently, Cash is in Minnesota playing games at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and beating teams like the Junior College All-Stars, who didn’t have one pitcher on their roster throw less than 92 miles per hour.
“Facing guys like that makes it all easier,” said Cash, who walked six times in two games on Tuesday.
If competing against top-notch pitchers makes the game easier for Cash, then opposing teams better beware.
During his junior season, the cleanup hitter for Lakeview Academy led the team with a .466 batting average to go along with his nine home runs and 48 RBIs.
“When he was at the plate we felt confident good things would happen,” Roark said. “We counted on him for those good things, especially to drive in some runs.”
Cash had some help with driving in runs, as teammate Brett Armour, who hit before him, led the team with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs. Despite Armour’s numbers, teams were still afraid of Cash’s bat.
“They pitched to him, which was odd because he was hitting all the home runs,” said Cash, who has hit .450 or better since his freshman year of high school. “They’d throw around me, but he did his job so I really didn’t have to do much.”
His biggest hit of the year arguably came in Game 1 against Bremen, when his grand slam propelled the team to a win. But, alas the momentum of that hit failed to carry Lakeview to the next round, as Bremen went on to win the series and end the Lions’ season.
“I was very disappointed,” Cash said of how Lakeview’s season ended. “We could have beat them and we could have done a lot of things, but you learn off stuff like that and I still have one more year.”
Roark is looking forward to that last year.
“I’m thrilled to have him for one more year,” Lakeview’s coach said. “You hope for every player to get better each year, and if he can get better, then he’ll have a very fun senior year.”
One that Cash hopes will end with Lakeview getting past the second round of the playoffs and hearing his name called in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, where he’s already projected as a second or third round pick.
But that’s not good enough.
“I’d like to get up in the first round,” he said. “That’s what this summer and next season will be all about.”