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MARION — Need six RBIs in a game?
How about someone to lead the division in hits?
Looking for somebody to shoulder the load of innings pitched when he’s not tracking down fly balls in the outfield?
Linn-Mar Coach Chad Lechner has the luxury of calling on the same person to fill each of those roles.
Senior Manny Jeffery has done it all for the Lions in another productive season. The two-time all-state selection is having his best offensive season in three years as a varsity starter.
“I’ve really been happy with what I’ve been doing,” Jeffery said. “Right now, I’ve been working a lot so I’m glad to see it pay off.”
Jeffery leads the Lions in most offensive categories, including hits (52), doubles (10), triples (3) and RBIs (31), while batting a spectacular .481.
“I’ve been hitting a lot better with a lot more solid hits,” Jeffery said. “I’ve been seeing the ball a lot better.”
On the mound, he is 3-2 with a 2.49 earned-run average, throwing a team-high 39 1/3 innings. Jeffery is third on the team with 64 putouts, committing just one error in 70 attempts.
At the heart of the production on the field is an unselfish mentality, accepting any task to help Linn-Mar win. Jeffery admits, however, hitting is the most fun.
“Whatever my coaches ask of me I’m ready to step up and do what they need,” Jeffery said. “Hitting is my favorite part. I enjoy pitching a lot, too.”
Lechner praised Jeffery’s versatility. He also said Jeffery has mastered the intricacies that people take for granted, including leads, jumps on the bases and the reactions and angles to the ball.
“We’ve had some kids come through that ended up going on and playing D-I in the last 10 years or so, but Manny is probably just the best complete all-around baseball player that I’ve coached,” Lechner said. “He’s just so smart on the diamond.
“Those intangibles, the things you can’t really coach, are things he has a knack for.”
The Lions have reaped those rewards since his sophomore season. He has hit at about a .430 clip overall, tallying 148 career hits, 72 RBIs and 91 runs. His on-base percentage has never dipped below .459. Jeffery also has 10 career victories.
“He’s our catalyst and has been for the last couple years,” Lechner said. “He’s been a big part of our success the last three years.”
Jeffery started the season strong. He said his highlight was a five-hit game against Cedar Rapids Xavier in the Bob Vrbicek Metro tournament, driving in six runs and coming up a double shy of the vaunted hitting cycle (single, double, triple and home run in the same game). Previous performances and accolades added to the stress of his final season.
“There’s a little bit of pressure on me,” Jeffery said. “I’ve produced in the past and there is some pressure to do it again. I want to produce for my team and help my team win as much as possible.”
With some inexperienced players stepping into the lineup early in the season, Linn-Mar needed seniors to embrace a leadership role. Jeffery accepted the challenge, letting his actions do most of the talking but also becoming more vocal.
“He’s grown that way,” Lechner said. “He’s more comfortable in leading by example but he’s expanded a little bit and stretched his horizons in that way. He’s a great leader, too.”
The Lions have been hot lately, winning 11 of their last 14 games for 16-17 mark. The pitching rotation has been solidified, dealing with injuries including Jeffery’s bad back to start the season.
The Lions have improved. A tough early-season schedule littered with ranked opponents made things tough as well.
“I think it’s about coming together as a team,” Jeffery said. “We had a lot of young players at the beginning of the season that weren’t quite ready to make the varsity adjustment. As the season has progressed, they have really come along. We played a lot better defensively and pitched better overall. It has made a huge difference.”
Jeffery will continue his baseball career at Wartburg. Lechner said Jeffery received academic scholarships due to his involvement in activities and success in the classroom.
“He’s such a great kid,” Lechner said. “You love to see a senior that is a good teammate and good all-around kid have as good of a season as he’s having.”
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