ADEL -- Cook County has earned a reputation for two things: a good high school baseball team and a good deal on a Ford. This spring was no different, particularly on the baseball field.

Cook High's baseball team wrapped up a 26-8 season with a loss in the Class AA state semifinals to Augusta Westside Monday. The season was Cook's best since a state championship in 2000.

"It's been a good year," Cook head coach Bob Owsley said. "This team played well. I was proud of the kids. They never quit, down to the last game (Monday)."

After a 6-4 start, Cook won 16 of its next 17 games. That included a perfect 12-0 season in Region 1-AA play, and the region championship. The Hornets also rallied in Game 3 of the state quarterfinals against Lovett, when, down to their last strike, they came back to score three runs to win the game 5-4 and advance to the semis.

The good news for the Hornets is that most of this year's semifinal team will be back next year. Only three seniors depart. The biggest loss will be All-Region pitcher/infielder Kyle Hamilton, who went 8-1 with a 1.51 ERA on the mound, and batted .364 with four home runs and 39 RBI from the cleanup spot. The Hornets will also lose first baseman Matt Dobbins (.281, 4 HR, 27 RBI) and second baseman Kendall Woods (.296).

The rest of the team will be back in 2006, and will have another year of development under their belts.

"We're pretty optimistic about next season," Owsley said. "We're going to keep working, and trying to get better. We're not going to sit back and rest. Next year, we'll be the hunted again, because everybody's going to expect us to be good.

"We'll take next week off, but then we'll get back to work. We'll host our tournament with Berrien, then we're taking the kids up to Parkview for their tournament, and then there's the Lowndes tournament. We'll have a busy summer. We want to get the kids experience, try to get better, and try to build some more depth."

The group returning next year will be led, at the plate, by All-Region catcher Justin Ray, who led the Hornets with a .453 batting average and eight home runs, and also drove in 36 runs. He also struck out just once all year. Ray is one of five .300 hitters coming back for the Hornets, along with leadoff man Jonathan Fulghum (.328, team-best 34 runs and 16 steals), shortstop Brandon Mainor (.382), outfielder/pitcher Cody Gooden (.339) and pitcher/outfielder Blake Mainor (.306). On the mound, staff ace Blake Mainor (7-4, 0.90 ERA, 75 K), whose fastball has been clocked as high as 90 mph, returns, as do both Gooden (6-0, 1.35, 64 K) and left-hander Fulghum (5-1, 2.00, 3 saves).



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"We've got some talent coming back," Owsley said. "Now we hope we can find guys to step up for the players we lost, and we can build some depth."

All that talent returning could potentially make the 2006 Hornets even better.

"I'd like to think we will be. But I know we've got to work hard to get there," Owsley said.

"We worked hard this year, never quit, and it showed. We had some great kids who really came through for us. We appreciate the support we've had from the community, and we're looking forward to next year."

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