03/23/11 — Trojans' Cooke returns to circle

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Trojans' Cooke returns to circle

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 23, 2011 1:46 PM

MOC Sports Information

MOUNT OLIVE -- Told by doctors her softball career had ended, Ana Cooke proved them wrong Tuesday afternoon.

The senior right-hander made her collegiate debut during game two of Mount Olive's doubleheader against Conference Carolinas softball rival Erskine.

Diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome more than a year ago and fully recovered from Tommy John surgery before transferring to MOC, Cooke held the Flying Fleet hitless for three innings.

Erskine, unfortunately, swept the twinbill 4-3 and 4-0 at Nancy Chapman Cassell Field.

Cooke retired the side in order in the first and second innings. She allowed a lead-off walk in the third, but the runner was caught stealing. Cooke retired the final two batters she faced on a groundout and her third strikeout.

Cooke says she initially felt like she could stay on the mound longer.

"When I came out, I was like 'Oh my goodness, I could pitch three more games!' But then I sat down to get iced and I thought, 'Okay, I'm glad I stopped now and getting iced!' I think that hit my limit," said Cooke, a right-hander from Greenville.

Cooke was ahead 0-1 on each of the nine batters she faced -- six called strikes, two swinging strikes and one foul ball on a bunt attempt.

Cooke attended Pitt Community College, but never pitched in a regular-season game after undergoing Tommy John surgery. She enrolled at Mount Olive to start her junior year participated in fall softball. But in October 2009, she was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome, a disorder that affects the nervous system. She had difficulty even walking and was confined to a wheelchair for almost two months.

Her dream of playing college softball finally came to fruition Tuesday.

"I have waited for this day for a long time," said Cooke. "When I was six and seven, I knew I wanted to play for Mount Olive. To get on the mound today and wear this uniform was amazing."

Cooke says head coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham didn't give her much time to think about her debut. Kylis-Higginbotham didn't give any indication that Cooke would pitch in game two until after the conclusion of game one.

"I was warming up in the bullpen and Coach (Kylis) came over and asked if she could see a few pitches," said Cooke. "Then she said 'I think I'm going to start you this game. How do you feel about it?' I said 'Okay! Okay! I'm ready to go!'"

Cooke was filled with emotion for her first pitch -- a called strike.

"There were definitely butterflies, but being able to throw that first pitch and having the team behind me that I do, I can't describe what feeling that was," she said.

While Cooke's pitching performance was near perfect for three innings, Mount Olive (15-20 overall, 3-3 CC) faced a pitcher who was near perfect for seven innings in game two. Kelsey Spurrier (8-3) tossed a two-hitter -- both hits by Robbin Kennedy -- and retired 14 of the final 16 batters she faced.

Larissa Shannon broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth with an RBI triple and scored on Lindsey LaPrad's single. Trojan pitcher Kristin Ware (3-2), who missed nearly a month with an injury, struck out three in three innings of relief.