Alabama mourns the death of former prep, college star

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, wearing the the letters J.H. on his uniform, in memory of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, works in the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, April 30, 2007, in Atlanta. Hancock, who was a college teammate of Hudson's, was killed in a car accident Sunday morning. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Hancock was 28-1 as a high school pitcher and helped his team to three state championships.

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. -- Former high school and college teammates are mourning the death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who helped Vestavia Hills High School to three state championships in the 1990s and was a member of the Auburn team that went to the College World Series in 1997.

Hank Askins, a Vestavia Hills teammate and close friend, said he had talked to Hancock on Saturday afternoon. Hancock, 29, died when he crashed his sport-utility vehicle early Sunday.

"Josh was very upbeat Saturday," Askins said. "He had just had a new contract negotiated and he was really happy."

Samford University baseball coach Casey Dunn was a teammate of Hancock both at Vestavia Hills and Auburn.

"Josh was a great friend, a great teammate at Vestavia Hills and at Auburn," Dunn told The Birmingham News in a story Monday. "This is a shock. He flew [wife] Marti and me to St. Louis last season and we spent some time with him. We talked often. I was so proud of him."

At Vestavia Hills, Hancock went 28-1 as the school won three straight Class 6A state championships. He holds the Alabama High School Athletic Association record with 27 straight wins (1994 to 1996).

Hancock was an important part of the 1997 Auburn baseball team that advanced to the College World Series. Hancock went 2-0 with a 4.75 ERA in 13 appearances for the Tigers, striking out 32 in 30 1/3 innings.

"Josh was a part of arguably the best pitching staff and arguably the best team ever to play at Auburn," said current Tigers coach Tom Slater, who was an assistant on the team, which included Tim Hudson, now with the Atlanta Braves. "It is a shame when anyone dies, especially someone as young as Josh, in a tragic accident."

Dunn remembered taking his father, the late Vestavia Hills coach Sammy Dunn, to Atlanta in 2002 to see Hancock's major league debut. It was a trip his father, who had coached Hancock and was battling cancer, didn't want to miss.

"It brings so much pride to all of us when one of our own can reach that level," Dunn said.

In 1995, Dunn caught for the Rebels as Hancock and Colter Bean each starred for Vestavia. Bean reached the majors with the New York Yankees in 2005 and played in two games in 2006 and this season. He had just been recalled Sunday morning, a few minutes before Hancock's car crash.

"I talked to Colter this morning," said Dunn, who learned of Hancock's death from Bean's father. "Josh's dad called me about 5 a.m. He wanted me to call some of his friends closest to him and let them know what happened before they heard about it on TV."

Funeral services in his parents' hometown of Tupelo, Miss., are scheduled for Thursday.

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