Neither Dakari Cooke nor his Army baseball coach attempt to sugarcoat – that’s not the military’s style – his disappointing season. But when the Cadets advanced to the Patriot League championship series, there Cooke was starting Game 2 in left field.
What role Cooke, a sophomore from Bethel High, might play in this weekend’s NCAA tournament regional at Virginia is unclear. But he vows to be prepared.
“Just ready for the next rep,” Cooke said after practice Thursday. “I haven’t had the best year I wanted, but I’ll definitely be ready.”
Army (29-21) faces Virginia (47-10) at 1 p.m., Friday, followed at 6 by Elon (32-28) versus UNC Wilmington (37-21).
Bethel’s valedictorian in 2011 and a .424 hitter as a senior, Cooke has struggled this season. He’s appeared in 37 games, starting 14, and is batting .133.
As a West Point freshman, Cooke played in 23 games, starting 15, but hit a solid .264.
“Dakari when we started off the season, we thought he was going to be in the thick of things,” Army coach Joe Sottolano said. “He didn’t play as well as he had hoped for or what we had hoped for, but then he sort of picked it up as of late and saw significant time in our championship series.”
Army swept that best-of-3 series from Holy Cross. Cooke played in both games, starting the second. He went a combined 0-for-4 but stole a base in each contest.
The Cadets’ Patriot League title earned them a second consecutive NCAA trip to U.Va., and for the second time in as many years, Cooke’s parents and grandparents will venture here from Hampton to attend the games.
“All the Virginia boys are really looking forward to it,” Cooke said.
Cooke is among four Virginians on Army’s roster. The others are pitchers Andrew Flaherty from Chesapeake, Gunnar Carroll from Louisa and Patrick Gardner from Glen Allen.
Carroll, Cooke and pitcher Chris Rowley, who will start for Army against Virginia, spent part of last summer with the Peninsula Pilots. Cooke hit .185 in 15 games and hopes to rejoin the Pilots briefly this year before returning to West Point in early July for military training.
“I’m glad they gave me the opportunity,” Cooke said of owner Henry Morgan and coach Hank Morgan.
Sottolano believes Cooke has the opportunity to become a significant player at Army.
“Hard-working young man, very athletic,” Sottolano said. “I still think he’s going to be as successful as he wants in life as well as baseball. Very bright young man, very charismatic, and I think his better days are ahead of him.”
Here’s a link to Comrade Wood’s extensive story about Cooke from last season’s NCAA tournament.
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