CENTRE - One of Josh Decker's defining moments - perhaps the defining moment - of his high school baseball career came when he was handed the ball in the second game of the quarterfinal round in the Class 4A state playoffs against Madison Academy.
Decker tossed 9 2/3 solid innings before being lifted for pitch count. He would have gone longer if allowed.
As Decker made his way to the Warrior dugout, fans from both sides gave him a standing ovation. They appreciated the hard work the young man had put into winning the game.
"That kind of goes back to playing for my dad for so many years and him raising me the way he did," Decker said. "The bar was set to where if you're going to do something, you're going to do it 100 percent. That's been my whole life. That's what I've tried to do when it comes to everything, not just sports."
The determination Decker demonstrated is a trait Cherokee County High School baseball coach Fran Blanchard loves.
"He wasn't going to turn it (the ball) loose," Warrior coach Fran Blanchard said of the Madison Academy game. "I got an email from a lady from Madison Academy the next day who put an overall synopsis on Cherokee County baseball. She said she loved the small-town atmosphere, she loved the fans and she loved what our pitcher did. It epitomized our coaching staff our philosophy on baseball. Just go up there and give everything you've got. I think that's what Josh did. He was going up there and dealing every inning. That was amazing."
"(Former Cedar Bluff baseball coach) Taylor Talbot installed that bulldog mentality in me," Decker said. "I know any of the guys on my team would have had my back, so I was willing to go out there and give it everything I had for them. It wasn't for me. It was for them. I didn't want that to be any of the seniors' last game."
The Warriors lost that game 4-3 in 12 innings, ending their season at 25-10, but that game will be one Decker said he'll always remember.
On Tuesday night, he had another moment he'll always remember.
Decker signed a baseball scholarship with Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City prior to the Warriors' baseball banquet.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't thank God, first and foremost, for the abilities he blessed me with in order to play this game I love so much," Decker said. "I'd really like to thank my dad. He's coached me since I was old enough to hold a bat. This really means a lot to me to be able to sign and play college baseball because of the work he's put in with me. I've had several mentors in my life besides my dad, like Steve Smith at Piedmont, Taylor Talbot, who's been a huge part of my life, and Jamie Crane, my uncle. All of those guys have been huge parts of my baseball career. It's been a good ride."
The senior, who also played several spots on the infield for the Warriors this season, went 5-0 on the mound, giving up just 18 earned runs with a 2.72 ERA and 34 strikeouts. Decker was also dedicated at the plate, batting .353 with five doubles, a home run, 12 walks, 20 runs and 28 RBIs.
Not bad for someone who just transferred in from Cedar Bluff prior to the season.
"It could have been hard for him to come to us, but it wasn't," Blanchard said. "He was such a good teammate.
"I told (CACC baseball) Coach (Larry) Thomas you're getting a special guy. You're getting a guy who's not only going to be a good baseball player, but the best team guy you've ever seen. That's what Josh has been to us. He's been a guy who will play any position at any time and not question you. He knows the only thing in our minds is making sure our baseball team is good. He's good with making our baseball team good."
It wasn't as if Decker was transitioning some place he was entirely unfamiliar. Most of his "new" teammates were guys he'd played with in Dixie Youth.
"Getting to come into this situation was kind of unique. It was almost like I got two senior years at two different places," Decker said. "The relationships I developed with these guys here are relationships I'll carry through my whole life. Those are guys who I look at as lifelong friends. They welcomed me in like I'd always been there. It was huge for them to make it as comfortable as they could for me. Having Coty (Blanchard) and Fran as my coaches my senior year really means a lot to me. I know I'll always value those relationships I made."
Now, Decker is anxious to make those kind of relationships with his new team.
"I'm excited about Central," he said. "I went down there on a visit and met Coach Thomas. I fell in love with the campus. It's a small-town atmosphere in Alex City, kind of what I'm used to. Coach Thomas kind of sold me on coming down there. I'm just excited to get into that program and work. I'm excited to see what the future holds."