Perfect chemistry fuels battery

Softball: North County pitcher Beth Mullins and catcher Danielle Martinez form a powerful duo as they go for a third straight state title.

High Schools

April 14, 2004|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

North County's talented All-Metro battery -- junior pitcher Beth Mullins and senior catcher Danielle Martinez -- can sure pick some peculiar times to wear smiles.

Take the fifth inning of last year's Class 4A state championship game.

With North County leading by a run, Bowie put runners on second and third with no outs.

Martinez went out to talk to Mullins, and soon they were sporting a couple of we-know-something-you-don't-know grins. And with good reason. Mullins went on to strike out two batters and Martinez made a fine swiping tag at the plate, clearing the path for the Knights to claim a 1-0 win and their second straight state title.

"When I get stressed, Danielle will come out to the mound and say something to make me laugh," said Mullins. "She's always there to calm me down because she never gets stressed out. She lets everything go right by her."

The connection between a pitcher and catcher is one of the most important facets in softball. The No. 3 Knights (7-1) have the metro-area's best in Mullins and Martinez, who first played pitch and catch for the under-12 Maryland Magic select team.

"They just have something that's unique -- a special bond that works," said North County pitching coach Brent Lounge. "The thing that makes them really special is their work ethic. Practice ends and Mullins and Martinez will be the ones pulling the bases up because they're doing extra stuff that goes beyond what others do."

With a handful of pitches, pinpoint control and the will to never give in, Mullins is 5-0 this season with a 0.95 ERA after going a combined 24-4 in her first two seasons, with two of those wins producing state championship plaques. For her career, she has 331 strikeouts. She also hits the ball hard, coming off a season in which she hit .337 with 15 RBIs and 17 runs.

Martinez, along with being Mullins' calming influence, has a strong arm that keeps most opponents from running and a penchant for coming up with the clutch hit. She's always had good bat speed, and over the course of her third-year varsity career has become a more selective hitter. She's batting .545 for the season.

Ask North County coach Bob Boyd who he would want at the plate with something big on the line and he doesn't hesitate to say Martinez, who hits behind Mullins at cleanup.

"And that's not being biased, I've just seen her come through so many times," he said.

So has Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger, who watched Martinez hit a two-run triple in the eighth inning of the Class 4A East region title game to give the Knights a 4-2 win last season.

He's also seen more than his share of Mullins' nasty changeup that's played tricks on his Cougars batters and everyone else.

"With those two, you can tell that they really enjoy working together," he said. "When Beth throws that change and gets people on it, you get the little smile from Beth and Danielle's pumping her fist. They're a great battery and there's also the fact that both can flat-out hit."

Mullins has a number of superstitions that start way before the first pitch and continue through the game.

Her last warm-up pitch has to be a changeup. The hand-slaps with the infielders before each inning come in careful sequence. She has to toss the ball in the air standing over the mound at the end of each inning.

"Oh, gosh -- there's so many," said Martinez. "But it's her thing and if she has to do them, I'm not stopping her."

Why mess with a good thing, right?

With two straight state titles, the Knights, who lost just one starter, have set a standard that's a constant challenge to match.

Experience, confidence and staying focused on what's next has the team primed for three straight. And there's no question the starting point is Mullins and Martinez.

"They give us leadership and set the tone in most of our games," said senior shortstop Jen Roantes. "When they're working so well together, it's letting the rest of us know that we have to keep up our end and they're always so positive and confident."

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