AUSTIN — When Argyle was preparing to play Stephenville in Game 2 of a best-of-three series May 3, coach Ricky Griffin delivered some unfavorable news to senior pitcher Sean Bolin.
Griffin told Bolin, a Utah signee, that he was going to start junior Tate Van Poppel in an attempt to close out the series. Van Poppel and Bolin had similar numbers on the year, but Bolin had been cemented into the rotation as one of the team’s top two pitchers alongside Chad Ricker.
A conversation ensued between Bolin and Griffin, and the decision stood.
While Bolin was frustrated initially, he took the move constructively. From that point on, he had a chip on his shoulder and was determined to turn into the pitcher he wanted to be — the pitcher the Eagles needed.
“This year when I struggled, it was like I brought my nice-guy personality to the field,” Bolin said. “I finally said that I was going to shelve that when I got to the mound. I started coming out here not a fan of the other team and came at them. That mindset has been most important in my success.”
Bolin flipped a switch and dominated in the next three series-ending games for the Eagles. In his first 13 playoff innings, Bolin allowed just five hits, four walks and two runs while recording 17 strikeouts.
That fierce mentality translated to Bolin’s start at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Thursday night’s Class 4A state championship game against Sweeny.
Bolin pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed five hits and three runs against a strong Sweeny lineup — and what the Eagles said felt like was a tight strike zone.
Dillon Carter came in to close the game for Argyle (40-1-1), sealing a 6-3 win over the Bulldogs (31-10) and securing the Eagles’ second consecutive state title.
“I told [Bolin] this morning, ‘You’ve done it so far — now go out there and make a statement tonight,’ and that’s what he did,” Griffin said. “Sean Bolin was our No. 1 last year in Austin, so it took a lot of character on his part to show he accepted his role.”
Despite moments of disagreement, Bolin and Griffin quickly found a balance. Their relationship turned into comfort on the mound for Bolin, leading to wins for Argyle in the postseason.
“Coach Griffin has done so much for me and he’s always been there for me,” Bolin said. “Just like a best friend, you’re not always going to agree on everything, but he’s always had my back and I’ve had his. It’s been a blessing to play for him the past four years.”
Griffin praised the depth of a loaded pitching staff that carried the Eagles throughout the season. Ricker started in the state semifinals after emerging as the team’s No. 1 pitcher with a year’s worth of stellar outings. Bolin was rock-solid, ending the season with a 9-1 record. Van Poppel went 8-0 and will be the top returner next year.
Griffin always had options, but he wanted Bolin to prove himself every time he stepped onto the mound — not only to Griffin or the opposition but also to himself.
“He had a lot to prove tonight,” Griffin said. “He had a chip on his shoulder on the mound, and I loved it. I loved watching him compete like that.”
On a few occasions, Bolin let his emotions show Thursday — further burying his “nice-guy” persona. He was chirping at batters, emphatically clapping at his defense’s plays and celebrating after a handful of strong pitches.
In the end, his efforts and change in mindset came through for the Eagles’ in the form of another championship.
“There was some chirping going around, but that’s the only way to do it,” Bolin said. “No more nice guy.”
After the final out, Bolin found himself at the bottom of the Argyle dogpile and had a few scars to show for it. Those cuts and bruises will fade away, but he’s certain the memories of this team won’t.
“This is the best way to cap off a brotherhood before we go off and play college ball,” Bolin said before taking a long pause and finishing. “It’s just surreal.”