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Akouris: At Indiana, Sam Travis out to beat sophomore jinx

Indiana's Sam Travis. | Supplied photo

Indiana's Sam Travis. | Supplied photo

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Updated: March 28, 2013 6:49AM



Indiana baseball coach Tracy Smith knew he had a solid player on his hands in Providence grad Sam Travis. What Smith probably never imagined was how well Travis carried himself during the 2012 Big Ten Tournament.

“He’s had a lot of memorable games, but it was how he played during the Big Ten Tournament that stands out,” Smith said. “He was a freshman and you wouldn’t have known it. I remember the emotion that was picked up and it was unusual for a first-year guy.”

Travis, a sophomore first baseman, seems to have picked up where he left off in 2012 when he won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. Travis earned this season’s first Big Ten Baseball Player of the Week award Feb. 18, the second of his career.

Travis went 7-for-12 (.583), reached base at a .706 clip and slugged 1.167 to combine for a 1.873 OPS as the Hoosiers went 2-1 in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge in Tampa, Fla. The Hoosiers had victories over No. 4 Louisville and South Florida.

“Louisville beat us 25-2 last year and we knew we would try to give it all we got (against the Cardinals),” Travis said. “I’ve never been more confident as I was (Feb. 15).”

Travis also had a hit in all three games — Indiana’s lone loss was a 4-3 15-inning, five-hour contest against Connecticut — but had three hits against UConn and South Florida. He drove in all three runs against UConn, including a home run. He had three doubles against South Florida.

“I didn’t think I’d get it, but I appreciate the recognition,” Travis said. “I feel confident right now and with our players, we will go at it out there.”

Indiana is the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title after finishing second to Purdue a year ago. Purdue beat Indiana 6-5 in the title game, but the game was marred by a benches-clearing brawl in the top of the ninth. After Purdue scored the go-ahead run, the Boilermakers’ Eric Charles slid hard into Indiana’s Michael Basil, nearly knocking him over. Both benches erupted.

The fight overshadowed both Travis’ and Indiana’s achievements. The Hoosiers finished the season 32-28 and won 15 of their last 20 games overall, including 13 of 17 Big Ten contests. They played the best college baseball in the country.

Bringing the attitude

When Travis was at Providence, he experienced the winning attitude the Celtics program is known for. He was a member of the 2011 Class 4A state runner-up team that lost to Lyons 8-3 in the championship game.

“It’s no secret we wanted a guy who knows how to win and, tools-wise, he is one of our best players,” Smith said. “He gets us big-time hits.”

Travis said he did have some transition issues when he went from playing high school to Big Ten baseball. Some of that may have come with a position change. Smith said the 6-foot, 205-pound Travis played third base in high school, but at Indiana, Smith and his staff wanted to move Travis across the diamond to first.

“That didn’t go so well,” Smith said.

But Travis adapted and turned into one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten.

He’s confident to continue that this season. Earning the Player of the Week award probably helps, too, but Travis is out to get the Hoosiers back into the Big Ten title game and on to the NCAA Tournament. The last time the Hoosiers made an NCAA tournament appearance was in 2009, in the Midwest Regional. Prior to that, Indiana played in the 1996 Midwest Regional.

Baseball isn’t one of those Big Ten sports that gets as much attention as football and basketball. And playing the Midwest, many programs are at the mercy of the weather. Travis, though, thinks interest in Big Ten baseball is on the uptick and he’s hoping to be a part of it.

“We can’t play year-round and people think there is more talent in the South, but I think the Big Ten is on the rise,” Travis said. “We’re out here working hard, and even though people in the South can go outside, we’re still here working with what we have.

“I feel that it gets overlooked, but we don’t have any control over it.”

As a senior at Providence, Travis was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 40th round. But if he is picked up by a major league ballclub in June’s amateur draft, Travis will figure out his options at that point.

“I don’t think about the draft,” Travis said. “I’m just playing Indiana baseball.”



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