Fearless Freshman Jessica Mullins Leading Texas State
To etch your name in the Texas State record book beside Randi Rupp, the program’s all-time leader in wins and strikeouts, takes quite the performance. To do it as a freshman, that will make the faithful in San Marcos, Texas quickly learn your name.
Jessica Mullins didn’t spend much time trying to catch up to the speed of the collegiate game this season. She tossed a 12-strikeout no-hitter against Abilene Christian in her college debut, becoming the first Bobcat since Rupp in 2018 to throw a no-hitter.
And Mullins was no one-hit wonder. Two days later on Feb. 24, she had to face the powerful, experienced Texas lineup. She held the Longhorns to four hits across 7.2 innings as Texas scored its lone run on a throwing error.
Her third appearance didn’t get much easier. Coach Ricci Woodard asked Mullins to get the final two outs and protect the Bobcats’ one-run lead over Mississippi State. She earned her first save that day despite having to face Mia Davidson and Fa Leilua coming out of the bullpen.
How did this 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher find college softball success so quickly?
“Ever since I was younger, I tried not to show any type of emotion toward the batter,” Mullins said. “If I show certain emotions toward the batter, they’ll get the feeling that they can beat me. I want them to know that I’m out to get them, I’m there to strike them out or get them out with my team behind me. I want to show no fear.”
So far this year, the newcomer leads Texas State in innings (98) while having a 1.64 ERA and already surpassing 100 strikeouts on the season.
Following the abrupt end to the 2020 season, Woodard didn’t expect to have a true freshman be her ace for the 2021 campaign. However, once Mullins arrived on campus, the plan was clear because she carried an attitude most 18-year-olds don’t have.
“It’s her demeanor,” Woodard said. “She wants the ball. She honestly believes most of the time when she throws a pitch, she's going to win that pitch. That showed throughout the fall against her own teammates. She did a good job of competing day in and day out. When you can do that as a freshman mentally, that shows you have an edge over a lot of freshmen that come in and do this.
“I thought she had earned it with the fall season that she had, she earned the right to have the ball early in the season and she’s continued to fill that role for us.”
The decision has certainly paid off. Mullins was an essential part of the Bobcats’ program-record tying 18-game winning streak.
When Mullins made the decision to head to Texas State, one of the most influential factors was the strong relationships she saw others create there. As the Bobcats have embarked on this historic stretch, she’s having more enjoyment than she could have ever imagined with her team.
“I didn’t think I was going to have this much fun,” Mullins said. “At this level, I had no idea that we were going to be this successful...We keep moving forward, we keep playing our game. I think the most fun about it is that we uplift each other’s achievements. You see one person’s home run or base hit and we are all going crazy in the dugout. That’s the most fun thing to me is being able to be there for each other.”
It’s not only Mullins’ quick start to her career that has been impressive, it’s that even in a short span over the course of the season she has continued to develop. At the start of the season, she struggled throwing her changeup, but now it has become a go-to strikeout pitch for her.
Woodard and the staff have had the unique experience of not having a tight leash on a true freshman because they’ve wanted Mullins to gain the experience and work through jams. She’s also simply done well in avoiding the big innings for the most part.
Even in those stressful moments, Mullins' confidence never wavers.
“I feel more and more relentless like I am going to get our team out of it,” Mullins said. “It fuels my fire being in those pressure situations.”
There’s a lot of innings to be played in 2021. There’s a lot more games to be played in Mullins’ career. Nevertheless, Woodard can’t complain about how this season has gone and what the future holds for the young hurler.
“You hope this sets the tone for her next three years after this,” Woodard said. “She’s had this experience now going through this process...She’s still going to have some growing pains that she’ll need to figure out as we go through this process. But the experience she’s had this season is exactly what you look for and hope for as a freshman, and she’s handled it in a great way.”