GRUNDY CENTER — Baxter’s ace pitcher Carter Nelsen came into Saturday’s postseason opener having allowed only seven earned runs the entire season.
So after Lynnville-Sully tagged Nelsen with four runs in the first inning, it was easy for him to think the game was already over.
Fortunately for the Bolts, there were still six innings left.
Nelsen eventually settled down on the mound and the Baxter offense had one of its best performances of the season as the Bolts rallied past the Hawks, 9-5, during Class 1A District 11 quarterfinal action at George Wilhelm Sports Complex.
“It feels great. First playoff win as Bolts. That was our goal and we hit it,” Baxter coach Lewis Daye said.
Baxter (7-16) and plays Hudson (13-12) in a district semifinal game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Hudson. Lynnville-Sully’s season retires at 10-21.
Nelsen’s final line was five earned runs on six hits with three walks, two hit batters and 10 strikeouts in seven innings. But he only surrendered one hit and one walk and hit one batter while striking out seven over his last five frames.
Nelsen (3-1) said he changed the positioning of his feet after the first inning. That adjustment helped him get on track.
“I went off the first base side of the rubber because of the angle to the plate,” Nelsen said. “(The umpire) was calling pitches both ways on the outside corner so I think that helped me a lot.
“I got roughed up a little bit. I fell behind in a lot of counts and I had to put fast balls down the middle and they made me pay.”
Lynnville-Sully got three of its six hits in the first inning. Blaize Kuhlmann singled, stole second and scored on Kinnick McFarland’s RBI single. Bray Noun Harder then walked, McFarland moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored on Slater Young’s RBI sacrifice fly.
Evan Squires was hit by a pitch, Payton Van Wyk walked and Braden Alberts made it 4-0 with a two-run single.
“We hit gaps and it felt good to get up early and I thought we were in a good spot,” L-S coach Scott Alberts said.
Baxter came right back to tie it in the second inning. And the Bolts used the bottom of the lineup to rally. Eighth-graders Jake Travis and Cody Damman singled between Cael Shepley’s walk to load the bases.
Cole Damman’s RBI walk chased L-S starting pitcher Bray Noun Harder. Conner Maston walked Rory Heer for another Bolts’ run and then Nelsen laced a two-run single to left field to tie the game.
“It gave me some confidence because after I gave up four I thought we were going to lose,” Nelsen said. “That second inning got us right back in it.”
Coach Alberts credited Baxter’s bottom of the lineup for finding holes in the defense. He said not shutting the door that inning was key to the rest of the game.
“We gave up some walks in that second inning and some dink base hits,” Coach Alberts said. “They put the ball in play and put it where we weren’t.”
It wouldn’t be the last lead for the Hawks though. Kuhlmann led off the second like he did in the first with a single. He stole second and scored on Young’s two-out RBI single.
That was all the Hawks couldn’t muster offensively. Nelsen gave up an infield single to Squires in the third, hit Maston in the fourth and then walked Maston in the sixth.
Nelsen entered the seventh inning with 98 pitches. He struck out two in the second, third, fifth and seventh innings.
“They came out swinging and were aggressive,” Daye said of the Hawks’ fast start. “(Carter) made a good adjustment and started playing around with the zone a little bit more. He mixed in his off speed nicely and his defense backed him up, too.”
The Bolts managed to tie the game at 5-all in the fourth. Cole Damman singled, stole second, went to third on a ground ball and then scored on a wild pitch.
Baxter chased Maston from the mound in the fifth. Maston failed to get an out in the frame as Ian Thomson reached on an error, stole second and scored on Brendyn Padget’s RBI single.
Maston was pulled after a single by Travis. Payton Van Wyk came into the game and immediately got a strikeout. But Cody Damman singled and Cole Damman’s two-run single made it 8-5.
Cody Damman tacked on another run when he scored on an L-S error.
Van Wyk retired the Bolts in order in the sixth and seventh innings, but the Hawks’ offense stalled against Nelsen.
“We had opportunities today, but we couldn’t shut the door,” Coach Alberts said. “We knew we were going to use multiple pitchers. (Baxter) took us deep in counts and we threw a lot of pitches. They made it tough on us. “
Maston (3-4) took the loss for the Hawks, allowing three earned runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Van Wyk struck out four and allowed one run on two hits in three innings. Noun Harder surrendered four earned runs on two hits with four walks.
The Hawks, who defeated Baxter 19-3 on May 30, ended the season with seven straight losses. Baxter came into the game losers of eight of its last nine games, too.
“We wanted to play more games and we faced some really good teams late in the season,” Coach Alberts said. “We are trying to change expectations. We weren’t able to find success at the end of the season and that was hard to take into the postseason.”
Cole Damman, Cody Damman and Travis all had two hits and scored two runs. Cole Damman also had three RBIs. Nelsen had one hit, one walk and two RBIs.
Kuhlmann finished with two hits and two runs and Young and Braden Alberts each had two RBIs.