Willis leads Iowa baseball on offense and defense

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Opposing base runners might want to rethink running on Trevor Willis.

Through 17 games, the Iowa center fielder has thrown out seven runners, leading the outfielders in assists by a wide margin.

Not bad for his first season as the captain of the outfield.

Willis played mostly left field last season before moving over to center this season. Before coming to Iowa, the 6-3 senior played shortstop in high school.

For Willis, the adjustment has been a fairly seamless one. Certain attributes from his infield days — mainly arm strength and a quick release — have helped his outfield prowess.

Head coach Jack Dahm said Willis' seven outfield assists don't surprise him.

"That's a phenomenal number," Dahm said. "That's more of a career's worth. It seems like every weekend when we go out and play, he throws someone out."

Willis has prevented some runners from moving up a base in close games, which is just as important as outfield assists.

"We're very adamant about our guys throwing to the cutoff man and not letting the trail runner advance," Dahm said. "He's done such a good job with that. He's making good team decisions as far as where he's throwing the ball."

That unselfish attitude is also apparent at the plate for Willis. Offensively, he leads the team in batting average — hitting at a .343 clip — and is tied for the team lead in runs batted in with eight.

Earlier this season, the Homer Glen, Ill., native batted .647 (11-for-17) and posted a .667 on-base percentage during a four-game stretch against Georgia State and Mississippi State March 4-6. The Hawkeyes won three out of the four games, and Willis was named Big Ten Player of the Week.

As of Tuesday, his batting average ranks among the top 20 in the Big Ten. He is also tied for third in the nation in triples with four three-baggers.

These numbers are somewhat a byproduct of his batting leadoff this season, and it appears he will stay in that spot.

"I'm always looking for a good pitch to hit [in the leadoff spot]," he said. "If the first pitch is there, I'll swing at it. I have different game plans for different pitchers. Sometimes, I'll try to lay down a bunt, try certain things. I'm always trying to get deep in the count and see as many pitches as I can.
"If the pitch is in the zone I want to hit, I'll be aggressive. I'm trying to have a quality at-bat every time up."

A tremendous part of his success can be attributed to handling failure at the plate. Overcoming some early season streakiness has paid big dividends for him, assistant coach Ryan Brownlee said.

For Willis, a couple of bad at-bats haven't hindered him. So far, the numbers speak for themselves.

"Trevor works extremely hard," Brownlee said. "There is so much failure involved in baseball, some guys have self-doubts. Trevor doesn't let a bad at-bat string together into a bunch of bad at-bats in a row. He's been doing a great job of separating that failure from the success he has been having. He's been a complete player for us."

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