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Diamonds in the rough

The Slugger

Brandon Decker keys a bright future for a struggling but young Gulf squad.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Even in a season with only two wins and none in district play, Gulf's youth is reason for optimism on the west side.

That's largely built around a strong sophomore class that includes pitcher Kevin Fagan and county stolen-base leader Andy Medina, but the Bucs also have gotten a boost from freshman Brandon Decker, who has shined as the team's first baseman and No. 2 hitter.

"I've had freshman who played here before, but he's earned his spot out of pure ability," said coach Shaun Wiemer, who has another freshman starting at third base and batting third in Cellin (KELL-in) Neptune. "Those two will be two huge sticks in the middle of this lineup for three more years."

Decker, 15, entered baseball tryouts thinking he'd have a chance to make the Gulf varsity but wasn't sure if he could start because the team had returning starters at second base and shortstop. He showed enough at the plate to necessitate a move to first base just to get his bat in the lineup, and he has been at first all season.

"It's been a really good first year," Decker said. "We're always trying to win, but we're just young. We're good about staying calm, about never giving up, so we stay pretty upbeat."

Gulf has been close in enough of its losses that the Bucs are looking forward to the Class 4A, District 8 tournament, where they will face second-seeded Land O'Lakes. Decker missed one game against Land O'Lakes with the flu, but he had a base hit in the other game, making a diving catch in a rare start at shortstop.

With a lineup returning nearly intact next season and a core group that will be back for another two years, Decker is excited about his future at Gulf, thinking about a time when the Bucs are closer to the top of the standings than the bottom.

"Hopefully, our junior year, we'll be where Ridgewood is now," Decker said. "Ridgewood might be where we are, but we won't be the underdogs anymore."

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