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Mitchell's catcher signs with Tampa

Brian Sommer took the white University of Tampa baseball cap, flexed the brim until it curved just right, then smiled, prompting a chorus of whirring cameras and applauding classmates.

In just its third year, Mitchell is getting the hang of the signing-day ceremony. For the second time in a week, a Mustangs player accepted a scholarship to play college ball _ pitcher Tyler Clippard chose South Florida last week and on Wednesday, Sommer made it official with the Division II Spartans.

"I can't say enough about Brian," Mitchell coach Phil Bell said. "He's probably the hardest-working kid I've ever had. This summer, he decided he wanted to catch, so he's taking lessons a couple times a week, all summer long. He went to a half-dozen showcases and camps all over the country. I haven't had a kid as determined and as hungry as Brian."

Sommer played centerfield last year, batting .306 with 16 RBIs and 16 runs, and also pitched 34 innings with a 2-3 record. The 17-year-old decided he could help the team more behind the plate, so even though he'd never caught, volunteered to take over for Leo Loiacano, who graduated and will play at Fairmont State in Princeton, W.Va.

"I love it behind the plate," Sommer said. "I like being in control. I like being a leader. You're very involved, very vocal, and I just love the position."

Sommer's family moved from Colorado after his freshman year, and he called the move "the best thing that's ever happened." He likes the University of Tampa for more than its baseball program, which has won three national championships. He had surgery on an injured knee three years ago, and was so impressed with the medical process that he plans to study orthopedics.

"I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of good guys," Sommer said. "It was one of my first-choice schools, anyway, because it's a great program. The coaches are great and the opportunity is excellent, both academically and athletically."

Before he worries too much about college, he's looking forward to his final year at Mitchell. The Mustangs are in good position to improve on last year's 12-18 mark.

"I'm so excited _ the bond between all of us is so tight," said Sommer, who also considered Stetson and Jacksonville. "We're all looking forward to the season, and we have a lot of expectations for ourselves."

Sommer's audience Wednesday included parents, teachers, administrators, students and teammates, and Bell said he hopes his younger players can be inspired by what Clippard and Sommer accomplished, both on the field and off.

"These guys have set a great example for the other players," Bell said. "They couldn't have done this without good grades. They're serious students, and they're two of just three athletes in the history of this school to sign with colleges. I hope the young kids see this and say, "If I bust my tail like that, there might be some things out there for me, too.' "

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