BAXTER — Carter Nelsen missed all seven of his shots and scored zero points during a loss to Meskwaki Settlement back on Dec. 10.
That down night prompted a conversation between Nelsen and Baxter boys’ basketball coach Zach Hasselbrink. Hasselbrink challenged his senior post player and the chat proved to be beneficial.
Nelsen averaged only 5.8 points per game through the first five games of the season but has since put in three consecutive 20-point games.
On Jan. 6 against Mormon Trail, Nelsen had 27 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Bolts to a 68-52 non-conference home win over the Saints.
“We did talk and he wanted me to be more aggressive,” Nelsen said. “I knew it would come around eventually. It’s been much better since the Valley Lutheran game. That was an easy game, but that got me back on track and I have been rolling ever since.”
Baxter also got 24 points, seven steals, five assists and three rebounds from senior Cole Damman as the Bolts won their third straight game.
The Bolts led 22-16 after one and took a 39-27 lead into halftime.
“We had times tonight when we went stagnant. We need to cut out our droughts,” Hasselbrink said. “We had a 20-point lead and let it slip. We have to continue to improve and get better.”
Damman and Nelsen had 20 of the Bolts’ 22 points in the first quarter.
They traded treys early to put the Bolts up 9-0 and a putback by Nelsen later made it 17-7. Damman’s third 3-pointer of the quarter put Baxter (6-2) in front 22-16 after one quarter.
The Saints (3-4) got within five early in the second quarter, but Nelsen scored inside, freshman Cody Damman scored on a drive and Cole Damman hit a pair of free throws to push the advantage to 28-17.
The lead grew to 15 later after Cody Damman buried a 3-pointer. Freshman Trice Clapper also hit a free throw to push the lead to 39-23. The Saints trailed by 12 at the break.
A fast start to the third quarter extended the Bolts’ lead to 20. Junior Kael Johnston nailed a 3-pointer, Nelsen scored inside, Cody Damman made a free throw and Cole Damman scored and got fouled to make it 47-27.
Mormon Trail did go on an 8-0 run to trim its deficit to 12 before Cole Damman, who came into the game averaging 23 points per game, drained another 3-pointer. The lead was 12 going into the fourth quarter.
“Cole has the green light,” Hasselbrink said. “We set a lot of our offense up to make sure he gets looks and gets the ball. We want the ball in his hands.”
The Saints got to within six early in the fourth quarter. Gabe Stripe made two free throws and a bucket inside and Luke Parmer also connected twice from the free-throw line.
Parmer entered the game averaging eight points per game but scored a team-high 24 in the loss. Stripe finished with 12.
Cole Damman hit a pair of free throws and then Johnston pushed the margin back to 11 with a 3-pointer.
“Those are the kinds of shots he is going to get,” Hasselbrink said of Johnston. “We tell our guys all the time to shoot wide open 3s. Those are the shots we want and the shots he’s in the game to go make.”
After Parmer hit a jumper, Nelsen responded with a bucket inside and a 3-pointer to put the Bolts in front by 14. The Saints never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“We knew they were a pretty small team. I figured it was going to be another big night for me,” Nelsen said.
Hasselbrink said he liked the matchup with Nelsen against the smaller Saints.
“We want to find mismatches and we had a mismatch tonight with Carter,” Hasselbrink said. “We’ve waited for a long time to see him do what he is now doing. He struggled to start the year but it’s coming around. This was our expectation for him.”
Johnston scored eight points and Cody Damman added six points and four rebounds. Sophomore Rory Heer did not score but dished out 10 assists and grabbed four rebounds.
Baxter shot 45 percent from the floor and made 15-of-23 from the line. The Bolts also were 9-of-22 from 3-point range.
“We are playing really well right now. We have a lot of guys contributing,” Nelsen said. “Cole is having a big year and I have been on a little bit of a roll lately. Everything is going really well right now and it’s fun.”
The Bolts host Collins-Maxwell at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 10 in Baxter. It’s also the school’s Hall of Fame night.