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Willey, Threshers win minor-league title
Ex-Chesapeake College ace helps Clearwater claim FSL crown

Cory Willey is a champion.

The former Chesapeake College pitching ace put together a 7-2 record this season to help the Single-A Clearwater Threshers win their first Florida State League championship in 14 years earlier this month. Willey pitched two perfect relief innings in a Game 1 victory as the FSL West champion Threshers – a Philadelphia Phillies minor-league affiliate – knocked off FSL East titlist Brevard County, 3 games to 1.

"This is the first championship I’ve ever won," said Willey, who also played at Salisbury University after completing his two years at Chesapeake in 2001. "It’s awesome – a great celebration, fun thing to take part in."

Willey, who split his season between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading of the Eastern League, had a combined 9-3 record while making all 44 of his appearances in relief. Willey was 2-1 with Reading after receiving his call-up to Double-A, but was sent back down to Clearwater when a groin injury began affecting his performance.

"I tweaked my groin in my second outing at Reading," recalled Willey, who had a 15.00 earned-run average in six appearances with Reading. "I was throwing a pitch when I actually heard a pop. I found out I was dealing with a case of tendonitis.

After that I didn’t have any command of my pitches," added Willey. "My mechanics got all messed up because of the groin injury, and I fought with that for the rest of the season."

Willey battled through the injury successfully enough to help the Threshers in their playoff run. He finished his Single-A season with a 2.37 ERA, 54 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 38 appearances for Clearwater, which won the FSL West second-half title. The Threshers then defeated first-half champ Sarasota, 2 games to 1, in a divisional championship series that featured three one-run games.

The Threshers – whose only previous FSL title came in 1993 – outscored Brevard County by a combined score of 23-12 in the best-of-five league championship series.

"It was an awesome experience. I get a ring next year," said Willey, referring to the FSL championship ring each of the Threshers will receive.

Chesapeake College head baseball coach Frank Szymanski said he isn’t surprised by Willey’s success on the professional level.

"Cory has a lot of determination and passion for the game, which is what you need to try to move through the minor leagues," said Szymanski. "And he comes from a great family. His mother and father were big supporters of his dreams and of our program."

With the championship in his immediate past, Willey is looking toward the future. He becomes a minor-league free agent the day after the World Series ends, but said he could end up back with the Phillies organization.

"My goal is to get to the big leagues, and I want to get there as soon as possible," said the 26-year-old Willey, who signed a one-year contract with the Phillies organization prior to the 2007 season. "I would imagine I would go to Double-A if I sign with the Phillies, depending on what guys they bring back."

Combining his Single-A and Double-A stats, Willey was 9-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 2007.

"I think I had a really productive year," said Willey. "It started off kind of rough, not the way I wanted to come out of camp, but I turned things around, got into a good groove and got moved up. I’m not happy about what I did up in Double-A, but there’s always hope for me next year. I just need to get healthy again and come back. The injury I had, the only way to overcome it is with rest."

Willey said he’ll likely need a month of rest to fully recover from the injury, but may play winter ball in Venezuela.

"That will depend on a lot of things," said Willey, "including my health, my finances and whether I just need to open some more eyes if I haven’t signed (a contract for 2008) yet."

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