ARGYLE — There are times when Argyle senior Parker Mushinski needs a couple of moments to gather himself atop the pitching mound.
After a couple of pitches stray from the strike zone, Mushinski will run his hands through the brown hair that juts out from the back of his cap, rub the dirt and take a deep breath.
Then the left-hander looks at the batter, rocks back and fires a pitch at the plate, a process that’s resulted in success for Mushinski and the Eagles this postseason.
The Texas Tech signee is a reason Argyle is playing in its first state baseball tournament. The Eagles face Sinton in a Class 3A state semifinal at 1 p.m. Wednesday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin.
If Argyle wins, it will face College Station or Lubbock Cooper in Thursday’s state championship game and Mushinski will take the mound for the final time in his high school career.
Argyle head coach Ricky Griffin said Mushinski’s success this postseason stems from his ability to distinguish the difference between throwing the ball and pitching.
“The reason that he’s been successful in the playoffs is because he’s decided just to be a pitcher,” Griffin said.
Take Argyle’s Game 1 win against Paris North Lamar. Griffin knew Mushinski, whose fastball has been clocked at 93 mph this season, was going up against the Panthers’ hard-throwing, West Point-bound left-hander Daniel Gibbons.
Griffin said he told Mushinski before the game that it was not a contest to see who can throw the ball the hardest. If anything, Griffin wanted Gibbons to have the faster fastball.
Early on, both pitchers struggled to find the strike zone. But the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Mushinski showcased his maturity on the mound.
While Gibbons went on to walk six batters and strike two out in two innings of work, Mushinski picked up eight strikeouts in three innings of Argyle’s 15-3 five-inning win.
So far this season, Mushinski has a record of 7-2 record with a 2.37 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 51 walks.
But in four games this postseason, the lefty has lowered his strikeout-to-walk ratio and improved his pitching command.
Mushinski is 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 13 walks. The one loss was against Texarkana Pleasant Grove in the regional semifinals, where Mushinski only allowed two hits and three walks in a 1-0 defeat.
Mushinski remembers the point during his junior year when his fastball hit 90 mph for the first time, when colleges and pro scouts started to take notice of him. He also remembers the two-seam fastball that missed its destination during a game when he gave up a home-run ball that might still be flying somewhere across central Texas.
Mushinski no longer goes out there trying to throw as hard as he can. While his fastball has been clocked at 93 mph this season, Griffin said Mushinski has been registering the pitch around 88 toward the end of the season.
“I go out there and I try to pitch for contact,” Mushinski said. “I’ve been lucky enough and blessed that I have good velocity and good stuff, and that doesn’t always happen. But you’re not going to go out there and strike everybody out.”
But there are those times when batters know a fastball is coming and all they can do is pray to make contact.
“It’s quite comical,” Argyle junior catcher Ryley Balch said. “We could probably throw 98 percent fastballs and they still wouldn’t catch them, except for maybe one or two hitters on a good team.”
The future Red Raider is not too bad with the bat, either. Mushinski developed into Argyle’s biggest power hitter this season, entering the state tournament with a .382 batting average, nine home runs and 37 RBIs. Mushinski launched a three-run homer off Gibbons in Game 1 that proved to be the catalyst to the Eagles’ victory over North Lamar.
He’ll be needed at the plate Wednesday against Sinton, and if things go well for Argyle, he’ll be needed on the mound Thursday.
“You almost have to think of it as another game, until you realize afterwards that was for a state championship,” Mushinski said. “You gotta go into the game with the mindset of ‘OK, I’m going to pitch. I’m going to do my best, and what happens, happens.’”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.
UIL STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Class 3A state semifinal: Argyle (31-9-1) vs. Sinton (25-9-2), UFCU Disch Falk Field, 1 p.m.
Class 3A state semifinal: College Station (33-6-1) vs. Lubbock Cooper (20-18), UFCU Disch Falk Field, 4 p.m.
Class 3A state finals: UFCU Disch Falk Field, 6:30 p.m.