Former Hiland pitching ace and current Malone University Pioneers pitcher Eric Mullet might not exactly look like the prototypical intimidating, lanky, hard-throwing pitcher who would dominate teams to the extent that it would add up to 117 and two-thirds consecutive innings of unearned runs. But then again you really can’t see a person’s heart, mental capacity and desire on the mound.
Near the end of the Hiland Hawks’ baseball season this year, head coach Tom Gibson wanted to honor the 2016 Div. III Player of the Year and current OHSAA record-holder for consecutive innings without giving up an earned run. He and the baseball program did so by having a jersey retirement celebration at home plate at Lehman Field, the sight of many a batter’s woe who faced the diminutive right-hander with a wicked arsenal of pitches that baffled batters and left them wondering why this kid was so doggone good.
During the ceremony Hiland retired Mullet’s jersey, meaning no Hiland player will ever don the number 6 again. He also was presented with a game ball from his final game, the state championship game versus Waynedale, a game in which he came in to throw the final two-plus innings.
If you lined up six possible pitchers who held that illustrious record, brought in a group of 100 people who didn’t know who Eric Mullet was and asked them to identify the guy who tossed close to 120 innings of unearned run baseball, few of them, if any, would pick Mullet. But physical stature aside, Mullet possesses all of the intricate details that makes every great pitcher successful.
“It’s a thrill for me to honor Eric in this special way,” Gibson said of Mullet as he brought him on to the field to accept the accolades deserving of a pitcher who has achieved so much.
The numbers speak volumes for Mullet. In his three-year varsity career he threw 125 innings. Someone managed to score off of him during his sophomore campaign, and then he simply became Mr. Automatic during the final stretch of his sophomore year and his final two seasons. In those innings Mullet went 20-0, striking out 169 batters, walking just 22 and leaving Hiland with a career 0.22 earned run average, a number that ranks him third in OHSAA history.
“I know I never intimidated anyone because of my size, but I think [my fastball] did kind of sneak up on hitters because of my size,” Mullet said. “They didn’t expect me to throw that hard.”
How historic was Mullet’s unearned run streak? The former state record was 74 innings, a number that Mullet trounced and blew past easily.
“What made Eric so tough to hit wasn’t that he just blew people away with his fastball,” Gibson said. “He threw a fastball, curve ball and change-up, and he threw them all for strikes at any time in the count, whether he was ahead or behind a batter. That is such an unusual trait for a high school pitcher to have.”
There is no better example of just how baffling Mullet was to hitters than the 2016 state semifinal game when he tied the batters from a tough Versailles team in knots as they tried desperately to solve him. After watching another teammate go down on strikes late in the game, Versailles’ pitcher Brett McEldowney implored his team to get something going. “This guy is not that good,” shouted McEldowney to his teammates.
It may not appear so, but three outs later Mullet had wrapped up a 3-0, three-hit win in a game that propelled his team into the finals, having walked one and struck out eight, exhibiting the same unbelievable dominance that proved he was just that unhittable.
“All of those numbers go to show just how good he was on the field, but anyone who knows Eric knows that off the field he is twice as good,” Gibson said of Mullet. “He is a great kid.”
“I never would have ever dreamed it would have turned into something like this,” Mullet said of his astounding accomplishment. “Even coming into high school, we always knew we would be pretty good, and we accomplished a lot as a team. But I never saw this coming. It’s such an honor.”
As has always been the case with Mullet, he continues to maintain that team-first attitude, and even though this is an individual honor, he still sees it as a team honor because of the way his defense continually made his job easier by consistently making the routine plays and once in awhile turning in the spectacular ones.
Mullet thanked his parents, his coaches and teammates, and the community for their undying support of both him and the program. “There’s no way I would have accomplished any of my goals or gotten any of those records without all of you guys,” Mullet said. “My only goal was to go out there and put my team in the best situation to win games.”
Mullet said he never put a lot of pressure on himself to hang goose egg after goose egg up on the score board, but it was a relief once he moved past the record. From that point on he said he kept trying to take the number as high as possible. He said it was made simpler by knowing what kind of defense he had behind him. “There were many situations where I would have given up a run without my defense,” Mullet said.
He added that his dad, Brian, was a major factor in helping him build a passion for pitching. “He got me started, and he would go out in the yard and throw all the time,” Mullet said of his dad. “He was just always pushing me and supporting me, trying to get me to be the best pitcher I could be.”
That pitcher is now one whom Ohio pitchers will be chasing for a long, long time.