It’s no secret that Missouri’s offense has been dominant this year.
The Tigers (10-4) have scored more than 10 runs in eight of their 14 games. James Boone, a junior, and freshman Jacob Priday have combined for seven home runs and 42 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. MU has hit 14 home runs as a team, double the total of its opponents.
When that potent offense stalls, the Tigers have a secret weapon: important hits from an unexpected source.
Sophomore shortstop Gary Arndt started the Tigers’ homestand with a bases-loaded triple in the second inning of a game against Eastern Michigan. It was Missouri’s only big hit with runners in scoring position and provided much of the Tigers’ punch in a 7-1 win.
Arndt backed it up with an RBI single in Missouri’s 14-4 win Sunday and then had went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI on Wednesday in a 15-2 win against Illinois State.
“He gets a lot of clutch hits,” Boone said. “He puts the ball in play. He’s not one of those guys that’s gonna knock it over the scoreboard, but he’s a little spark for us, especially if we’ve got guys on, he finds a way to get them in.”
Arndt’s production has improved across the board. Last year, in 54 games, he hit .225 with nine extra-base hits and 18 RBIs. This year, in 11 games, he is hitting .378 with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs.
“I’m just in there trying to get hits and hopefully helping the team win,” Arndt said. “Fortunately, that’s been my job right now, to get guys in.”
But it wasn’t always his job. Coach Tim Jamieson said Arndt had lost the starting shortstop position to junior-college transfer Greg O’Neill during the fall.
“Greg came in and beat him out,” Jamieson said. “Gary’s been on a mission ever since then. He’s been a different hitter. He’s got a lot more at stake. Competition brings out the best in people.”
Jamieson didn’t say whether Arndt has won the shortstop spot back for good, but he has started six of the last seven games at either shortstop or second base.
Arndt has taken his apparent promotion in stride.
“I was a little surprised,” he said, “but I’m just in there trying to do my job.”
MU, which has averaged 10.7 runs a game, will try to extend its offensive hot streak this weekend in a three-game series against Youngstown State (1-7) at Taylor Stadium. The teams will play at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and at 4 p.m. Monday.
Jamieson said Missouri’s offensive prowess stems from a balanced attack.
“It takes a lot of energy for a pitcher for each guy that comes up,” he said. “There’s not an easy out in the lineup.”
Jamieson can only hope that Arndt and the rest of the Tigers keep that up. But one concern might be that Missouri is 2-4 in games decided by three runs or less, including an 0-3 mark in one-run games.
“It would be nice to play a couple of close games before conference,” Jamieson said. “We might score runs like this all year, but we can’t assume that.”