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Buc becomes all-around threat

Shaun Wiemer knew Brandon Decker was a dangerous hitter. That's why the Gulf coach batted him third the past few seasons.

But Wiemer didn't realize how dangerous until a line drive off Decker's bat shattered the cell phone clipped to Wiemer's waist during practice last season.

"He said, "How do you like that phone call?' " Wiemer recalled.

When he isn't short-circuiting his coach's communications, Decker is shutting down opponents.

After an all-conference season in which he batted over .400, led Gulf in several offensive categories and made late-game plays to keep the Bucs in games, the third baseman/pitcher improved his power and accepted a bigger mound role for his final high school season.

"He's one of the few players who's got a knack for the game, whether offensively, defensively, baserunning, every aspect," Wiemer said. "Then you've got to factor in his good leadership skills and ability. He's really turned into a good leader this year, which we had to have. He's our go-to guy."

Though most of Decker's pitching experience had been at the Little League level, Wiemer anointed him Gulf's closer during a bus ride earlier this season: "When the game's on the line - fifth, sixth, seventh innings - I want you ready to roll," he said.

"It means a lot to me," Decker said. "I like the pressure. I go out there and do my job and get it done. I feel comfortable out there, and I like holding the team on my shoulders because I know I'll come through in the clutch."

With an 80 mph fastball and good curve, Decker (1-0, one save in two appearances) doesn't overpower hitters. But he doesn't waste time on the mound and throws first-pitch strikes.

He struck out three while allowing two hits in 2 1/3 inings in relief of Kyle Trouton to save an 11-4 win over South Sumter on Tuesday, Gulf's first district win.

A week earlier, Decker struck out seven in three innings of a 3-2 victory over Central in the Tom Varn Invitational.

Decker has been equally dangerous at the plate, batting .333 with a double, two home runs and seven RBIs. He had a two-run single, double, three-run home run and a run scored to account for six of Gulf's 11 runs against South Sumter.

Unlike past seasons, when he was primarily a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter, Decker can pounce on a pitcher's mistakes and drive the ball over the fence. Though he sees fewer fastballs than in the past, Decker has been more selective at the plate and looks to hit the ball to all fields.

"It's helped me a lot," Decker said. "Taking the ball the other way opens the field up more for when I pull it because then they can't just play me to one side. They've got to watch for me everywhere."

Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley was so impressed, he recommended Decker for the Tampa Bay Showcase, which features the area's top prospects, in the fall. Ridgewood coach Larry Beets called Pasco-Hernando Community College coach Steve Winterling on Decker's behalf.

Ranger (Texas) coach Robbie Harris told Wiemer the school was prepared to offer Decker a full athletic package.

"All of the players really look up to him," Wiemer said. "They know he's excelled at this level and put the work into it that's needed to be successful at the varsity level for four years."