Baxter’s baseball team went 3-19 in 2018. But the Bolts won more conference games than that in 2019, improved their overall record to 7-17 and won the first postseason game in program history.
With an all-state pitcher back leading the charge and a few other standout starters returning, Baxter hopes to continue their climb up the Iowa Star Conference ladder under new coach Brett Slight.
“There is excitement in the air and the guys are happy to be playing the game of baseball again,” Slight said. “I am especially happy the seniors will get one last chance to play.”
A month ago, no one in the state of Iowa was sure summer sports would happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But all systems are a go, sort of, and Baxter hopes to improve on its 5-9 conference mark from a season ago.
Senior Carter Nelsen headlines this year’s roster after earning third team all-state honors as a pitcher and first team all-conference as an infielder last summer.
He’s the ace on the pitching staff. Last year, Nelsen went 3-1 with a 1.51 earned run average in seven starts and 51 innings. He struck out 90, walked 14 and hit 14.
At the plate, Nelsen was third on the team in hitting at .394. He scored seven runs, laced 10 doubles, had a team-high 27 RBIs, walked six times and stole six bases.
Nelsen’s supporting cast is led by senior Cole Damman, who is the top returning hitter after batting .397 last year. He got on base 50 percent of the time, scored a team-high 24 runs, collected four doubles, finished with 15 RBIs, walked nine times and stole 18 bags.
Damman earned second team all-conference honors as an infielder last summer.
“I think they will both be dominant on the mound and at the plate,” Slight said. “I think both Carter and Cole can hit .400 plus this season.
“Cole’s speed and strong arm are valuable assets. He’s an all around great player. Carter will be a huge contributor on the mound and at the plate.”
The Bolts’ roster is young and inexperienced for the most part.
There are 18 total players, 10 of which are eighth-graders and freshmen.
The other returning starters include sophomore Rory Heer and freshmen Cody Damman and Jake Travis. Junior Brad Matthews started 13 games and junior Andrew Klemme was a starter in nine games. Junior Jalen Porter and freshman Cael Shepley also started a few games each.
“They are a hardworking and selfless group,” Slight said. “I see some real talent on this team. I’m not sure some of these guys really know how good they can be. I’m a big believer in the power of positivity.
“In baseball, the mental side of the game and belief in your ability can play a big role in performance. We emphasize confidence and great body language all the time at practice.”
Heer will anchor the outfield. He batted .255 with 22 runs and seven RBIs and led the team with 15 walks and 20 steals. He reached base 44 percent of the time and earned second team all-conference honors as an outfielder.
Cole Damman played primarily at shortstop last year but Slight said he has caught on in the outfield during the early-season practices. Slight said Travis is another player who could be used in the infield and outfield.
“I have figured out a lot of ways I could play with the lineup. We need to have guys that can play multiple positions in order to be successful,” Slight said. “The great thing about this team is that guys are open minded to playing multiple positions. It will be tough to decide on a starting nine. There are a lot of good ball players on this team.”
Slight said Nelsen, Matthews, Klemme, Travis and Shepley will play a lot of infield for the Bolts this season.
Travis batted .250 with six runs, two doubles and four walks last year. He was on base 34 percent of the time.
Cody Damman is back as the team’s starting catcher. Slight said he will be a standout freshman in Class 1A and expects him to hit to all fields with good power.
He batted .309 last season with 11 runs, 12 walks and five steals. He got on base 44 percent of the time. Cody Damman was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season.
Nelsen leads the pitching staff but Slight said Cole Damman, Klemme, Travis, Matthews, Shepley and Heer all will pitch.
Matthews appeared in five games last year and started once. He was 0-2 on the season with an ERA of 2.42. He struck out four in nearly nine innings.
“Coming in as a new coach to this program I knew that pitching had to be an area of focus for us,” Slight said. “The guys are working hard.”
Slight begins his first season as a high school head coach. He is alum of Boone High School.
Slight played baseball for the DMACC Bears for two years and then finished his college career at Iowa State, majoring in physical education. He was the freshman coach for Boone’s baseball program for three seasons while attending Iowa State.
“Baseball has always been my favorite sport,” Slight said. “It was great coaching at a school that consistently makes the state tournament, and I learned a lot coaching under some of the best high school baseball coaches in Iowa.”
Slight said parts of the COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines have been tough.
So far, Slight said it’s been tough for guys to stay six feet a part and not being able to give teammates high fives. And the toughest part will be to remember to follow the guidelines during games.
“They’re adapting well and following guidelines to the best of their abilities,” Slight said. “We are just happy to get an opportunity to play this season. It will be even tougher come game time to keep these kids a part. This is a very selfless group that gets along well.”
The Bolts are scheduled to play 11 games in 2020. They play every team in the ISC South Division twice and then non-conference games against Roland-Story, Colfax-Mingo and AGWSR.