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Elkhart Ace perseveres on and off the mound

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  • Elkhart senior Kage Ralstin overcomes challenges to achieve baseball milestones. (Photo: Joey Bahr Photography)
    Elkhart senior Kage Ralstin overcomes challenges to achieve baseball milestones. (Photo: Joey Bahr Photography)

Elkhart High School’s Kage Ralstin is among the top players in 2-1A baseball, coming off a 2022 season during which he helped the Wildcats to a 19-5 record and state tournament appearance after upsetting top seed Bucklin/Coldwater 5-2 in the Regional Championship.

Serving as an infielder and a dominant force on the mound defensively, Ralstin posted a 0.553 ERA with 109 strikeouts and a 6-1 mark. Similarly effective at the plate, he posted a .437 batting average, .803 slugging percentage, 31 hits, 34 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, and three home runs.

Ralstin earned First Team All-State for his efforts after being named to the second team in 2021, and has since committed to Butler Community College where he plans to continue his baseball career.

What makes Ralstin's story particularly unique, however, is that he’s able to accomplish all of those impressive feats on the diamond with vision in only one eye.

Ralstin lost his left eye at age 10 after suffering an accident relating to a firearm that was inadvertently discharged in his face. Luckily, he was able to pull through, and after multiple surgeries was able to return to regular life and baseball, albeit with a caveat. 

“I actually have no depth perception, and so as a pitcher I kind of struggled at first,” Ralstin said. “It was off and on, and it actually did that in other sports too. I had to relearn how to locate my pitches and how to shoot and the hardest part is not being able to see that left side. You can get caught off guard by that a lot.”

Kage’s father Gary, mother Shelby, and older sister Chevelle – a sophomore college basketball player at Oklahoma Panhandle State University – provided support, and Ralstin practiced whenever he could, often with his father, playing catch and working on his swing.

“I have to give most of the credit to my dad for being the baseball player I am,” Ralstin said. ”Without him always pushing me to be the best I can, I would not be anywhere close to where I am today.”

After acclimating to the change, Ralstin began not only playing baseball again, but thriving.

“A game that sticks out the most to me was when I was on the Liberal Rattlers,” Ralstin said. “We were 15 in the 18U tournament and we played Dodge City’s varsity. I pitched one of my best games and we beat them. That's a major moment I realized how good I could be at baseball.”

Ralstin has kept up his impressive play throughout his high school career, with last season’s dominance on the mound and at the plate as evidence. But as the All-State senior approached his final season at Elkhart, life threw more adversity at the Ralstin family when, in February of this year, a house fire took the Ralstin’s home and three dogs while the family was in Oklahoma for one of Chevelle’s basketball games.

“The first thing we were worried about was if our dogs were okay,” Ralstin said. “That was what we were mainly worried about, and then we, whenever we got there, we figured out they didn't make it. But there's not much to think, a lot just goes to your head all at once.”

Moose, Mia, and their grandparents’ dog, who Kage simply called “Dog” and referred to as his “favorite,” were all lost along with the house and the majority of its contents. In the immediate aftermath the family has stayed in an apartment they own as they try to keep a sense of normalcy.

“We are pushing through it,” Ralstin said. “It is still hard but nothing we can’t handle. We are still at the apartment and don’t know for sure when we will be able to move into a new home.”

Friends, family, and the Elkhart community have rallied around the Ralstins, providing direct assistance and creating a GoFundMe campaign.

“Yeah we've got a lot of help from the community,” Ralstin said. “Actually, they put up some fundraisers for us, helped us with food and stuff for the past two weeks since it happened, and it's been a lot of help.”

Back on the diamond, Ralstin finds a place to get away from the stress off the field.

“Going to practice and stuff gets my mind off (everything),” Ralstin said. “It helps me stop to think about that stuff and just relax a little bit and do something I enjoy.”

Ralstin is one of six talented returning senior starters leading the Wildcats this season. Last season’s 2-1A Player of the Year Cesar Gomez (SS/P), who had a stunning .729 batting average in 2022, All-State catcher Austin Rich, All-League selections Weston Hall and Julian Duran, as well as .300 hitter Clayton Cole make for one of the state’s most talented core groups.

“We've known each other since we were tiny,” Ralstin said. “So we have that close bond with everyone and I really think that we can make a good run this year. This is our last year to actually prove it too. So we've definitely put in an effort for that.”

Given the squad’s ability, it comes as no surprise Ralstin’s expectations are high.

“It's our last year to prove our point,” Ralstin said. “So we want to go undefeated in league and all of our regular season and make it back to the state tournament and we want to go on a run and win that state championship.”

Despite some injury issues Rich has experienced early in the season, Elkhart has started the season strong at 10-0 with Ralstin at 5-0 on the mound posting a 0.0 ERA and 49 Ks over 21 innings pitched, to go with  a .441 batting average, 15 hits, 16 RBIs, and a home run at the plate. 

In the season opener, Ralstin came out hot with a no-hitter and he hasn’t slowed down since. In last week’s Friday matchup against Sublette the senior passed the all time school record for strikeouts, a mark that currently sits at 220, and on Tuesday against Stanton County he pitched a perfect game with 15 Ks over five innings.

“Whenever Kage is on the mound we know we are going to get his best, but last night he was on another level,” coach Aranda said. “He had great command and was changing speeds. It was fun to see. He is really starting to put it all together. He’s a special player!”

And in terms of his strikeout record, according to Aranda, he would have passed that career mark much earlier had it not been for the COVID season - yet another unlikely challenge overcome by the senior ace.

“Kage has always been a tough kid,” coach Aranda said. “He has always played through injuries and competes at the highest level. But what he’s had to overcome from a young age and then to deal with the house fire right before the start of his senior season, that takes a different kind of toughness. First outing of the season (in late March) and he throws a no-hitter! This kid is special. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”