As Mikayla Cooper confidently walked to the plate, Ohio held a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning against Ball State, but still need some insurance runs.
That insurance came when Cooper lined the pitch deep over the centerfield wall for a solo home run.
The pitch looked "fat" to Cooper. Ohio’s new assistant coach Jeremy Manley is the reason why.
“He moves the ball in ways I’ve never seen before, so when you get in box it’s like this is super fat,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t move as much, so it just looks like a big fat ball coming at you.”
The movement on Manley’s pitches is something every Ohio hitter has mentioned this season. In fact, Manley’s movement is stuff of legend around the softball world.
Manley, a native of New Zealand, joined the Black Sox, the New Zealand Men’s National Team, in 2006. While on the Black Sox, Manley was named Softball New Zealand Pitcher of the Year four times.
He also guided the Black Sox to a second place finish in the International Softball Federation Men’s Fastpitch World Series in 2009. He would guide the Black Sox back to the ISF Men’s Fastpitch World Series in 2013, but this time the team picked up the championship. Manley would earn the Kevin Herlihy Memorial Trophy, which is the only individual award at the tournament.
During his time with the Black Sox, Manley would also earn Amateur Softball Association All-American selections seven times, and he was named to the International Softball Congress All-World team three times.
All those international tournaments allowed Manley to travel the world chasing his dream of playing softball, and it was playing those tournaments that first brought Manley to the United States.
“Softball brought me here back in 2000, and yeah basically that was a dream that I was following,” Manley said. “I went back and forth for about 11 or 12 years and then decided to stay.”
When not pitching for the Black Sox, Manley won two New Zealand Men’s Open Club championships with two different teams. In 2006, he won the championship with Hutt City United. In 2013, he won the championship with the Hutt Valley Dodgers, and he was named the Most Valuable Player and Pitcher of the tournament.
Manley would also pitch for Massey University, where he graduated in 2013. During his time at Massey, Manley earned the Massey University Blues Award three times, which is the highest honor at that level.
“I worked at pitching and my craft for a long time, and I got to watch some of the best there ever was, and now some of those guys are in the coaching ranks in the NCAA,” Manley said. “So it is a great little lead to follow.”
Manley’s coaching career has touched every level of the sport.
He has served as a softball coach and private pitching instructor in both New Zealand and in Illinois. In New Zealand he assisted the Softball New Zealand organization with the pitching development around New Zealand, and he ran pitching camps for the 18U junior Black Sox.
In 2011, Manley was an assistant coach at Heartland Community College in nearby Normal, Illinois. In his time working with the pitchers and the offense, Heartland won a regular season championship and four consecutive tournament championships.
Heartland had seven players named to the All-Conference team in 2013, and pitcher Hanna Mennenga won conference pitcher and freshman of the year all under Manley’s guidance.
In 2013 and 2014, Manley was an assistant coach at Tri-Valley High School in Downs, Illinois, before jumping to the University of Illinois for the 2015 season.
While working for the Fighting Illini as a volunteer assistant coach, the team hit a program best .324 average with a .524 slugging percentage.
Then Manley’s time in the state of Illinois ended when Ohio coach Jodi Hermanek gave him a call to join the Ohio staff before the season.
“It was the next step in the ladder really,” Manley said. “I was given a great opportunity from Jodi to come in and work here with her and her team, and that’s what forced us to move here from Illinois.”
Now at Ohio, Manley works primarily with the hitters, where his philosophy is pretty simple.
“If you can hit me, you can hit anyone,” Manley said.
That philosophy has definitely helped the Ohio offense this season. Ohio is the top offense in the Mid-American Conference with a team .294 average with 22 home runs and 162 RBIs through 36 games. Through 60 games last season, Ohio hit 27 home runs and drove in 189 RBIs.
Manley’s influence on the team can also be seen in the success of Alex Day and MacKenzie Brunswick.
Last season, Day hit .156 with no home runs and just one RBI. This season, Day is hitting .380 with one home run and 18 RBIs.
“He has a lot of spin,” Day said. “So when we see other pitchers, the spin is not as heavy as his, so I think working with him helped a lot.”
Last season, Brunswick hit .151 with no home runs and three RBIs. This season, Brunswick is hitting .286 with one home run and six RBIs. When asked what has helped her improve this season, Brunswick did not hesitate and said Manley.
“He’s really helped me with my mentality at the plate," Brunswick said. “He’s been a great addition to the coaching staff. All the coaches have helped really, but he has definitely stood out.”
Morgan Geno is also a player that has seen the effects of Manley. Last season, Geno hit .256 with three home runs and 19 RBIs. This season, she is hitting .323 with seven homers and 32 RBIs. The biggest difference for Geno has been her and Manley’s system of calming her down.
“Me and Manley have this thing called our number system, and my number is supposed to be at a six on a one to 10 scale,” Geno said. “And usually I get to about a 40, where my leg actually shakes, I don’t know why, it just happens. So I have to be at a six, so we do like calm stuff like just be relaxed, don’t get tense that sort of thing.”
Hermanek said Manley’s impact on the program this season and experience he has brought in has been huge.
But Manley isn't the only international face on the Ohio team this season.
Brittany Keen is from New Zealand’s "rival" country, Australia, which has inspired some friendly banter between the two, which includes Desirae Villanueva, who is from Canada. Villanueva, a freshman pitcher, often works with Manley to help improve her pitching.
“So we now have Canadian, Aussie and myself,” Manley said. “So a good little culture milkshake.”