Mount Baker’s Aleks Toivola doesn’t strike out the most batters in the league. She doesn’t have the lowest ERA or the fewest hits allowed.
Instead the Mountaineers’ senior pitcher relies on a unique ability few high school athletes have.
Toivola is able to forget the game as soon as she gets on the bus home. If it’s a positive performance, something that comes frequently for the pitcher, it’s in the past once the game’s over. If it’s a poor outing, the memory is quickly erased.
“I admire her ability to let go when she steps off the field,” Baker coach Ron Lepper said in a phone interview. “When we’re driving home, it’s out of the picture. She doesn’t dwell on it.”
That mentality allowed Toivola to lead the Mountaineers to a Class 1A title game last season and they appear primed to repeat some of the same success going into this year.
As a senior, Toivola feels the responsibility to lead and as a year-round softball player has the experience and veteran savvy to do so.
“I know that the community expects quite a bit out of the team,” Toivola said. “I expect us to do well. I just don’t want to put too much pressure on anyone and just see where the season goes.”
Part of Toivola’s role as a leader is just to lead by example and with her knack for staying focused when on the field and relaxing off it, she’s the perfect player to do so.
“She’s somebody who takes her craft seriously when it’s time to do that,” Lepper said. “She’s developed into that leadership role. She’s a little quieter, but she’s earned it. When she says something the team knows that she’s been battling for the last three years and has proven herself.”
It’s that laser focus that allows her to succeed in the circle and at the plate.
She went 18-6 last year with a 2.41 ERA and struck out 102 batters in 151 1/3 innings, including pitching seven shutouts, two of which came in the state tournament.
She also hit .505 with 27 RBI as what Lepper called “a bad-ball hitter.”
“She’s one of those girls that could swing at anything and find a way to hit it and put it in play,” Lepper said.
But there’s not really a trick to Toivola’s sharp focus.
“I know that I’m not just doing it for me, I’m doing it for my teammates,” Toivola said. “I get in the mindset and get everything else out of my head. ... I know what I expect out of myself and just do the best I can do.”
And while her teammates count on Toivola to give them a chance in every game, her style of pitching means she has to have trust in her teammates also.
She’s not overpowering but she finds her spots, doesn’t walk many batters and allows her defense to play behind her.
“It’s great for her that if she makes a mistake, she gives the chance for her teammates to make a play,” Lepper said. “They don’t want to let her down and she’s the same way.”
That trust has been built over a long period of time, Toivola said.
“It’s nice because Mount Baker is a smaller community. The entire team, I’ve grown up playing with,” Toivola said. “We build strong friendships and we know what each other are capable of. It shows at practice.”
On the field though, it’s not all fun and games.
There are times when Toivola, as a senior leader, must step up and teach some of the younger players. As one of the few year-round softball players, Toivola has put a lot of time into her craft and has much to pass on.
But the senior admits she has to go about it the right way, something she learned from the Mountaineers’ past leaders.
“Just showing how we expect it at our school,” Toivola said. “When hitting, not just saying ‘Hey do this.’ But asking ‘Can I help you with this?’ Just leading by example, being coachable, being the first one to practice, the first one on the field. Showing them what it takes to be a varsity player.”
After showing how clutch she could be in last year’s state tournament, the Mountaineers’ younger players would be wise to take Toivola’s advice and if many of them follow in her footsteps, the Mountaineers are going to be a dangerous team for years to come.