It came in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Class 2A North Central Regional losers’ bracket final. With a state-tournament berth on the line, Wellborn and Lamar County were tied 3-3, and Lamar County had two runners on base with one out.
Lamar County’s Kristyn Whitford crushed a liner in the gap between third and shortstop that would have been a single against most third basemen, but the pop of the ball hitting in Mullinax’s glove immediately followed the clank of Whitford’s bat.
Energized Wellborn went on to win 8-4 and clinch its first state berth since 2001, thanks in large part to that one inspiring play just when the Panthers needed it.
That play, other plays and top-notch season-long numbers are why Mullinax was selected as The Anniston Star’s Calhoun County player of the year for 1A-2A schools.
Mullinax hit .427 (.500 with runners in scoring position) with a .508 on-base percentage and .590 slugging percentage.
She also had 64 putouts and 72 assists, but no putout was bigger than the catch she made against Lamar County in Tuscaloosa.
“She caught a tremendous ripper that, I think, made a swing in that game, as far as momentum,” Wellborn coach Brenda Vinson said. “Not only did it take it from the other team, it gave it to her own teammates, and they rallied behind her.”
It wasn’t the only big play Mullinax made. Her lone home run of the year, a two-run shot, gave Wellborn a 4-3 against Sardis, the fourth-ranked team in 4A. That game ended in a 4-4 tie.
But her catch against Lamar County was the biggest play in getting the Panthers to their first state berth in the fast-pitch era. It required anticipation. She had to range to her left then make a split-second reaction.
“At that point, I was nervous,” she said. “I knew our team had it in us that we could go through it, but, sitting there, I really wasn’t expecting that hard of a hit.
“It was just, bam! Caught it.”
The next batter popped out, so Lamar County wasn’t able to break the tie. Wellborn’s bats came alive for five runs in the top of the seventh inning, and the Panthers were well on their way to a big celebration at Tuscaloosa’s Sokol Park.
A team with two seniors and six eighth-grade starters was on its way to Montgomery.
“It meant a lot to us,” Mullinax said. “It was tough, knowing that it was older girls (they faced), but we as eighth-graders, we didn’t think of playing older people. We just played our own game and just did it.”
While an eighth-grader coming up big might seem unusual, those who know Mullinax weren’t shocked. She played varsity ball as a seventh-grader and has played years of travel ball, including a run with the Birmingham Thunderbolts.
She played youth league baseball before moving into softball in the under-10 league.
“She’s a very positive player, very determined and just an overall good kid that works hard every day,” Vinson said.
Mullinax was also plenty ready for varsity ball.
“I didn’t really have any nerves,” she said. “It was actually kind of fun, knowing that I’m an eighth-grader starting on varsity.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.