By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Missouri Southern shortstop Thomas Wilson has a different teammate in the middle of the infield this season, but the efficiency of the Lions’ defense is as good as ever.
The Lions, winners of their last 13 games and 16 of their last 17, have a fielding percentage of .965. That’s three percentage points better than it was last year when they set the school record.
Toss in an array of sparkling fielding plays in the Lions’ 2-1, 11-inning victory Sunday against Washburn, and it’s easy to understand the role the defense has had in the Lions’ surge into third place in the MIAA.
Michael McCoy, who primarily played left field last season, has made the transition to second base a productive one.
“That’s because of the preparation by the coaches,” said McCoy, who has committed just four errors. “We have different signals for different plays, depending on the situation.”
“For the most part,” Wilson said, “we know where we’re going to be. I think we’ve been playing baseball long enough that it just comes easy.”
The Lions have turned 23 double plays compared with 18 for their opponents, something the Lions’ pitching staff appreciates.
“Those are two of the best defenders in the conference,” said junior right-hander David Reese. “I think they know what each other’s doing before they do it.
“Double plays are nice,” he said. “They help you get out of an inning or a tight jam for sure.”
While the defense has played a key role for the Lions (24-11, 18-9 MIAA), McCoy and Wilson also are a big part of the Lions’ offense as the No. 1 and No. 2 hitters in the batting order.
McCoy, the Lions’ leadoff hitter, is batting .345, second on the team behind Sam Ryan. McCoy leads the team in hits (50), runs batted in (28), total bases (72) and has struck out just six times in 145 at bats.
“Mike is a junior college shortstop who has gotten better,” said Lions head coach Bryce Darnell. “He can get away with a few things because of his arm strength.”
McCoy, originally from Mesquite, Texas, played at Mountain View (Texas) College before he transferred to MSSU. He was honorable mention all-MIAA as a junior and led the Lions in batting (.375) and RBI (45).
McCoy follows in the footsteps of Luke Acosta, who played every inning of every game at second base for the Lions last season. Acosta batted .335 and led the team in runs (54) and total bases (95).
Wilson, from Wonder Lake, Ill., transferred to MSSU from Elgin (Ill.) Community College and started at shortstop in 48 games last season.
“Thomas really anchors our defense in the middle,” Darnell said. “Absolutely, you have be good in the middle of your defense. We recruit those guys as defensive players before we recruit offensive players, for sure.”
Wilson, who batted .277 last year, has been moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and is batting .317. He and McCoy are tied for the team lead in stolen bases with eight.
“Last year, I was in the lower part of the order,” Wilson said. “I like hitting behind him because he’s always on base.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t start too well, so there was a sense of urgency,” Wilson said. “It’s fun when you’re winning.”