April 19th, 2011
Seton Softball Doing Things The Mullin Way
Arizona program continues successful, steady run
Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, AZ has enjoyed a run of success under the tutelage of Softball coach Jerry Mullin. For the 26 years he’s been at the helm, the Lady Sentinels have earned 10 state championships, a top national ranking from CatholicSportsNet.com’s 2010 National Catholic high school softball power rankings, and numerous accolades nationwide.
But the mild-mannered coach shies away from the spotlight. He likes to give the attention to those who put in all of the hard work to make the Seton Catholic softball program such a success. While he has coached dozens of girls to college scholarships, he continues to mold his team in the basic principles he gleaned from legendary DeMatha Catholic basketball coach Morgan Wooten: “Play hard. Play Fast. Have fun.”
Mullin was born and raised in Omaha, NE, the home of Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series. He knows the game, he played the game, but he got hooked on fast pitch softball playing in a men’s league.
“I started playing men’s fast pitch softball after college,” he said. “Just the way the game’s played, the speed of the game and I enjoyed playing it myself are the reasons I got involved with it and stuck with it all these years.”
As a high school athlete, Mullin played the standard football, basketball and baseball and enjoyed some success. He even gave basketball a shot in college when he tried to make the Wisconsin Badgers team as a walk-on. When that didn’t take, he settled into his studies and looked for options outside of basketball.
Hired by Seton Catholic in 1985 to coach boys basketball and the softball team, Mullin soon noticed a conflict. “I coached boys basketball and softball,” he said. “After the time demands of the respective summer programs, I just decided I wanted to coach the softball team.”
In his 26th year as coach, Mullin has seen the game grow by leaps and bounds. His teams weren’t very good in his early years as coach, but he soon saw signs that his team could measure up. It was a gradual process, but one that eventually brought great success.
“I think in the early ‘90’s we saw it coming on,” he said. “It sounds funny, but one indicator was that teams that would routinely 10-run us, we started making those games go the full 7 innings and we’d tell the girls, ‘Hey, remember they used to 10-run us all the time’ and we slowly started becoming more competitive and eventually started to win those games. It was that gradual process from getting beat up a lot to being competitive and then to finally winning.”
But the winning came from a lot of hard work. He recalls those early years fondly and talked about the extra effort and dedication it took to get the program to a competitive level.
“I was just telling someone the other day about the first time I called a Saturday practice,” Mullin chuckled. I recall that there were just a couple of coaches, one or two girls and myself who actually showed up. It took a while to get over that mentality that you have to put in quality time to build a program.”
And build they did. They laid the foundation with those extra practices and the commitment from all soon followed. The support he’s received over the years has been critical for the program’s success.
“We’ve had a group of parents who have been great too,” he said. “From helping with the fields to helping me with the drills, they’ve been a big help to the program. But even more so, our success is about the players who put their time and effort into the game not just during the season but in the off-season, too.”
He’s seen the game evolve from a 10-player defense, to the regular 9 fielders that baseball has, and he’s seen the speed of the game increase dramatically.
“I’ll never forget that first state tournament game and just how fast our opponent was and how their pace was so quick,” he recalled. “I didn’t have the girls ready for the fast pace that the other teams were playing with their bunting, slap-hitting, base stealing and taking extra bases. We really got shellacked. I think we got 10-run’d (lost by 10 runs and game was ended after 5 innings) pretty early on and that’s when I figured out that we had to pick up the pace at practice and get the girls to utilize their speed.”
But like any good coach, Mullin learned quickly from that experience. “It was a humble moment because the girls were all gung-ho about getting to the state tournament, but in an instant it was over and I realized I had to do some things to help the girls be more competitive at that level.”
From that first state championship in 1995, Mullin has noticed the growth at the highest levels of competition as well.
“Softball has evolved in Arizona and a lot of that has to do with Coach (Mike) Candrea’s program at the University,” he said. We played the 1995 state championship game at 10:00am. There were some parents there and that was about it. Now, all of the levels (classes) will play around the same time in the evening and draw huge crowds. But it’s still special, that first one. To all of us, it meant a heckuva lot, and to compare that to what the state softball tournament is today is kind of funny. Over the years, they (state athletic board) have made it really special.”
And for the two generations of Seton Catholic highs school girls who have taken the field for Coach Mullin, he’s made it really special.