tampabay.com

Corrado ready to take heat

The Spartans slugger would welcome the chance to help his team to another title.

By DAVID NORRIES Times correspondent
Published May 17, 2007


A feeling of helplessness. That's how Tampa baseball coach Joe Urso described it.

He stood in the coach's box on the third-base line. Ninety feet away, the season, and a national championship, lay in jeopardy. All the coaching, countless speeches and a school-record 53 wins, and his club was one out from leaving Montgomery, Ala., and the Division II College World Series as runnerup.

"I can't believe it's ending like this, " Urso said he thought to himself, as the player whose bat held the fate of the team stepped into the batter's box. Down by a run in the top of the ninth inning with two outs and nobody on base, the sinking feeling was palpable.

At a moment when many coaches would have pulled aside a young man, their eighth batter in the lineup, and given one last piece of advice, Urso simply clapped his hands in encouragement, disguising any doubt.

"I just told myself, 'Don't make the last out. Whatever it takes.' That was my mentality, " Craig Corrado said.

When faced with the opportunity to be the hero, the first-year junior who had transferred from North Carolina the previous semester came through with a clutch single that, in Urso's words, "gave the team hope when there was none." Two batters later, Corrado would cross the plate with the tying run and propel the Spartans to a 10-inning win and the school's fourth national championship.

"Not everybody can do that, " Urso said. "It takes a certain type of player, one with the personality and guts to want the bat in his hands in that situation, and Craig is one of them. He wanted to be there."

Coach and player cringe when they think about how they would have felt on the ride home had their fate turned the other way.

Fast forward a year and Tampa (45-9) sits poised to repeat, hosting this weekend's NCAA South Region tournament as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. Corrado says he is just as hungry and equally as confident although his shoulders carry a bigger burden, as his team's best offensive threat and a senior leader.

He led the Spartans with 100 hits and tied teammate Ryan Kennedy for the most RBIs with 57. His .437 batting average not only led the team but the Sunshine State Conference, placing him fourth all-time in school history. With high school (Tampa Catholic 2001) and college title rings already on his fingers, the player who came through in the clutch last year desperately wants to make room for a third.

And if it comes down between him and the last out once again, he will gladly step in and accept that challenge.

"Personally, I like close games, " Corrado said. "And in that situation, when the game is on the line, I want to be up there. It's all about focus and taking it one pitch at a time."

With the nation's fourth-best scoring offense (9.3 runs per game) and fifth-highest team batting average (.364), the senior certainly isn't the only weapon for opposing pitchers to worry about. But if Tampa wants to be the first team to be back-to-back as World Series champs since the Spartans' own 1992-93 teams, Corrado is likely to be a big reason.

Fast Facts:

South Region tournament lineup

1. Tampa, 45-9

2. Tusculum, 48-12

3. Carson-Newman, 36-18

4. Florida Gulf Coast, 39-15

5. Florida Southern, 40-14

6. Stillman, 26-17

Game times

Today

Game 1: No. 1 Tampa vs. No. 6 Stillman, 11 a.m.

Game 2: No. 2 Tusculum vs. No. 5 Florida Southern, 3 p.m.

Game 3: No. 3 Carson-Newman vs. No. 4 Florida Gulf Coast, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11 a.m.

Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 3 p.m.

Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 7 p.m.

If four teams remain after Game 6, the schedule is as follows:

Saturday

Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11 a.m.

Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 3 p.m.

Game 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 7 loser, 7 p.m.

Sunday

Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m.

Game 11: Same teams as first game (if necessary), 5 p.m.

If five teams remain after Game 6, the schedule is as follows:

Saturday

Game 7: Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 11 a.m.

Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 3 p.m.

Game 9: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 7 p.m.

If two teams remain after Game 9, the schedule is as follows:

Sunday

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m.

Game 11: If necessary, same teams as Game 10, 5 p.m.

If three teams remain after Game 9, the schedule is as follows:

Sunday

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 loser, 1 p.m.

Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 5 p.m.