NAMPA - His college decision was behind him, so Skyview senior pitcher Toby Anderson was able to find some peace and have a clear mind on the mound.
That's maybe how it was supposed to be, but didn't turn out that way.
Anderson, who will pitch for the University of Minnesota next season, started off, well, a little off.
"I think he stressed himself out a little trying to live up to being a Division I pitcher and tried to be a big strikeout guy, but he's more effective when he's got some movement, has good location and trusts the guys behind him," said Skyview coach Ryan Bobo, whose Hawks (16-7) face Blackfoot (15-9) in the 4A state tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday at Bishop Kelly High.
In 13 appearances this season, the 6-foot-5 Anderson is 6-1 with two saves and a 2.25 ERA. He has 63 strikeouts in 53 innings with 18 walks. Those numbers are behind his stellar junior campaign, when he was 11-1 with a 0.98 ERA and struck out 83 in 72 innings, but still plenty good enough to be widely considered one of the state's best, regardless of classification.
Anderson says his slow start may have been due in part to a big focus on his last season of basketball - he led the Hawks in scoring en route to a third-place finish at the 4A state tournament a week before baseball season started.
"I put way too much pressure on myself, and that bit back at me a bit, because my first few starts weren't good," Anderson said. "It's gotten better - I'm a groundball pitcher, never really a guy that racks up a ton of strikeouts, and about halfway through this season, really focused on just throwing strikes low in the zone."
Anderson also has impressed with his bat, leading Skyview with a .442 average, 34 hits and 30 runs. He picked up two wins on the mound against Emmett and Bishop Kelly, two state tournament teams, during last week's 4A District Three championship run.
"We haven't found an answer for him, and not many others have much, either," Emmett coach Shad Larson said. "He can throw a lot of different pitches at you, and they can get there in a hurry."
Just as Anderson started the season slow, so did the Hawks, who were 6-6 before taking off on a hot streak where they have lost once in the last month. Bobo praised his team's defense and pitching, not limited to Anderson - Sage Diehm has 62 strikeouts in 32 innings, and Casey Bennett owns a 7-1 record.
"The way we started, playing like this is pretty awesome," Anderson said. "Everyone has realized their strengths and tried to play to that."
Anderson, who said there's a good chance he will be drafted in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, knows it won't be early enough to warrant skipping school. Before he heads to join the Golden Gophers, he will have one more shot to get an elusive state title, but first he'll have to contend with a bevy of other strong arms.
Among them are unbeaten Bonneville junior Kohl Hostert, an Oregon verbal commit; Bishop Kelly's trio of sub-2.00 ERA starters, Bowen Ogata, Robby Degen and Tyler Oldenberg; and Emmett sophomore Porter Gustin.
"There's a lot of good ones," Bobo said. "With Toby's arsenal, he's of course right up there. I don't know if he's the best, but I'm sure glad to have him."
LOSS A GOOD THING FOR KNIGHTS: When Anderson and the Hawks defeated Bishop Kelly to win the district title Saturday, it ended a 50-game win streak against 4A SIC foes for the Knights (22-3). That's a good thing, according to coach Bobby Sutcliffe.
"I really think it was the best thing to happen to us," he said. "It was really impressive to come back out this week and see how they've refocused."
Sutcliffe will start Degen (7-2, 1.85 ERA) against Moscow (11-11) at 4 p.m. Thursday.
YOUNG HUSKIES ON A TEAR: Emmett (13-13) was the sixth seed in the district tournament, but rattled off two wins in elimination games to clinch third place and a state berth. The Huskies play only two seniors, but the young group has progressed quickly.
"The goal is to get better each day, and I think you definitely can say they have," said Larson, whose team faces Minico (19-7) Thursday at 10 a.m. "We've got some good production in the order, from top to bottom."
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn