North County softball coach Tommy Thompson likes to joke that he resigned as head coach just before the playoffs started.

"They didn't need me anymore," Thompson said. "They gave the job to Beth Mullins."

Mullins, a senior pitcher, took over as head coach -- unofficially, of course -- two days before North County opened the playoffs against Arundel. She gathered her teammates in the infield during a Knights practice and said: "This is when we get serious. We've got to buckle down and win this state title."

During five playoff games, Mullins gave up only two runs, both in a 4-2 win over Damascus in the state title game. The pitcher also calmed and motivated her teammates, helping North County win its third state title in four years.

"You could just see a change in Beth's eyes once the playoffs started," Thompson said. "She got so serious. She wasn't going to accept losing. To be totally honest with you, she took this team over."

Her takeover continued into the championship game, when Mullins realized she could not overpower the Hornets' lineup. Even Mullins's 62 mph fastball and her fluttering changeup didn't completely fool Damascus, so Mullins gathered her teammates in the dugout during the fifth inning and told them North County's fate would hang on their fielding.

Her teammates responded. While Mullins gave up six hits, a season high, North County played nearly flawless defense. Theresa Papsan scored in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and give North County the title.

"Beth just got us all really pumped up," said Papsan, a freshman. "After the game, she just let out all her emotion. She was crying, because it was her last game and everything. Every player on the team went up and hugged her. We wanted to thank her."

Toni Evans makes a game-ending, over-the-head, juggling catch of a foul ball to secure the championship for North County. The Knights topped Damascus, 4-2.Beth Mullins, left, became North County's leader during the 4A softball playoffs. "She wasn't going to accept losing," said Coach Tommy Thompson. Mullins and the rest of the Knights, above and below, celebrate their title.