WORCESTER, Mass. -- If this was indeed Gary Mullins’ final game as head coach, then the long-time mentor of the Turners Falls softball program leaves on his terms as champion.
Today, in the Division 3 state final held at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field, the Indians captured their sixth state title with a 4-0 triumph over Case.
The sixth crown ties Apponoquet Regional with second most all-time in the state. Only Bishop Fenwick has attained more with eight.
Following the victory, Mullins did not want to dicuss his uncertain future, but instead focus the attention on his team.
“I thought the kids played some real-nice softball today,” said Mullins, who wrapped up his 33rd season with an incredible overall record of 553-131. “The kids really stepped up today. It was pretty impressive.”
Case (18-8) entered this tilt looking for some redemption following last year’s 1-0 loss to Indians in the finals. Senior pitcher Shannon Orton (4 H, 11 K) came out poised and strong striking out seven of the first eight batters she faced. Likewise, Turners Falls hurler Dakota Smith-Porter (1 hit allowed) was equally stout in the pitcher’s circle. Although not registering as many strikeouts (3) as Orton, nonetheless, the junior was pitching to contact and allowing her defense to make the plays behind her.
“The way [Turners Falls] was playing defense, they weren’t outstanding but they were solid," said Cardinals coach Norm Beauchemin, whose club began the year 0-4. “You put the ball in the air they’re going to catch it. For us, Shannon has been great for us all year and started out very strong today. But after a while good hitters are going to catch up to her. Last year I wasn’t too happy walking off this field but this year I have nothing to be sad about. Our girls gave me what they had and today the better team won."
In the second inning, Case looked as thought it would get on the board first. Orton led off the frame with a double to right-center. With Samantha Gouveia inserted as a pinch-runner, she would advance to third on Mary Vanlingen’s sacrifice bunt. Kadie Sullivan was then hit by a pitch and proceeded to steal second, putting two in scoring position with only one out.
Jenna Reposa next hit a medium-deep fly ball to left. With Couveia tagging on the play, Indians’ left fielder Amber Caouette threw a strike to catcher Morgan Ozdarski, who applied the tag on Couveia and the threat had vanished.
“That was a big play," Mullins said. “We made the plays today and did the right things the entire game so I was extremely pleased."
Turners Falls would finally get to Orton in the its half of the fourth. The right hander lost a bit of control by walking Jenna Putala and Jenna Costa to open the inning. Smith-Porter then stepped to the plate and promptly drove a double off of the centerfield fence giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.
While Smith-Porter appeared to get stronger inside the circle as the game progressed, the Cardinals had no answers in how to attack her. While at the time a two-run lead appeared safe the way Smith-Porter was dealing, the Indians had no intentions of letting up.
“Dakota played like an absolute champion today," added Mullins. “She came through big time for us. She had that big hit in the fourth and gave us seven full innings in the pitcher’s circle. She should be extremely proud in what she has done. She’s a terrific athlete and a great kid."
Turners Falls added to its total in the sixth. Costa walked and swiped second. Orton then retired the next two batters leaving it up to Tanisha Sanders. The junior (11-for-17 in the postseason) didn’t disappoint as she belted an 0-2 fastball over the left field fence for some added insurance.
“I was thinking anything close you have to swing,” Sanders said. “I don’t always do well in an 0-2 hole but I came through today and am proud of myself.”
Smith-Porter proceeded to set down Case in order in the top of the seventh, sparking a jovial celebration on the diamond.
“I was thinking anything close you have to swing,” said Sanders. “I don’t always do well in an 0-2 hole but I came through today and am proud of myself.”
Concerning Mullins’ immediate future. All of this came about recently when he announced that he would retire as a physical education teacher at Turners Falls. Mullins still wanted to remain on as part-time AD, however, but because the teaching and AD positions are considered part-time and are linked together and viewed as full-time, he was told that he could no longer serve as AD. With that notion decided, Mullins was later told he most-likely would not be retained as boys' basketball coach where he has already claimed 300 victories, and could also lose out on softball too, should someone in the school system apply for the position. Mullins was informed that he could re-apply for both coaching positions but with no guarantee he will be retained.
According to local residents, blame has been cast towards school administrators and committee members. For whatever reason, whether it be jealousy or dislike, they are trying to push Mullins out. Forgetting the fact that it is Mullins who is responsible for putting this small high school and the town of Montague on the map with his coaching success, particularly in softball. Over the last couple of weeks, Mullins has received a tremendous amount of support from local townspeople and former and present players alike in an effort to keep him on as coach. School administrators and committee members have gone silent regarding the situation despite the outcries which have come their way.
Hope is that something will be done relatively soon. Without a doubt, the right thing to do is allow Mullins to continue to coach both sports for as long as he wants to.
How can you argue with his success?