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McCUTCHEON: Mitchell girls staring at Sioux Falls’ best teams

The road to a sixth Class AA state championship for the Mitchell girls’ basketball team could go squarely through a trio of Sioux Falls schools.

The strong possibility exists that the No. 1-ranked and second-seeded Kernels will need to beat three teams from Sioux Falls to capture a title, starting with a quarterfinal matchup with Sioux Falls Roosevelt at 6 p.m. today at Frost Arena in Brookings.

With a win, Mitchell could face Sioux Falls O’Gorman — the only team with a win over the Kernels this season — in the semifinals and top-seeded Sioux Falls Washington may be waiting in a potential final.

The Rough Riders are 13-10, but faced a much tougher road to get to the tournament, playing six games against teams in the field and going 0-4 against Washington and O’Gorman, playing them twice each this year. Roosevelt also played five games against teams with winning records from other states, including a narrow loss to a 25-1 Marshall (Minn.) team Feb. 20.

Tagyn Larson, 15.3 points per game, and Paige Mriden, 16 points per game, lead the Rough Riders’ scoring attack. Larson is making 54 percent of her shots from the field, while Mriden is dangerous from the outside, with 46 made threes on the season.

O’Gorman holds a 55-50 win over Mitchell, a game the Kernels played on the road. Junior forward Taylor Volesky was limited by an ankle injury suffered two days prior against Huron.

The Knights have shown the ability this season to beat any team in the state, while also taking some bad losses. O’Gorman has beaten Washington, Roosevelt (twice) and Lincoln, while also falling to Rapid City Stevens and Pierre, two teams Mitchell has handled this season.

Mitchell has knocked off Washington the last two years in the state tournament, including a 56-54 win in the 2012 final in Brookings. Washington and Mitchell are the only schools to be ranked No. 1 this season and have been the top two in the seed points much of the year.

Mitchell’s schedule was soft this season with the Eastern South Dakota Conference offering little opposition.

The ESD sends one other team to the Class AA tourney, with newcomer Harrisburg making the field as the eighth seed. Mitchell topped the defending Class A champion Tigers twice during conference play.

The conference schedule accounted for 16 games on the Kernels’ 20-game schedule, not allowing many chances outside the league to pick up strong wins. Mitchell took on and defeated Stevens and Spearfish, both of which are in the field.

The lack of close games against quality opponents might make the Kernels’ 21-1 record look like a mirage. One fact is quite real when it comes to Mitchell. The team has the best player in the state with Macy Miller, who is averaging 30.2 points per game and has scored at least 23 points in every contest so far. Volesky, a junior, is a legitimate all-state performer with 15 points and six rebounds per contest. And while the rest of the supporting cast is not going to light up the scoreboard, they do play with the confidence and composure of champions.

The progress Mitchell has made from the first game against Pierre in December to the complete dismantling of the Governors in the District 3AA championship is substantial. Mitchell does not give away possessions on offense and teams must earn every point they get against the Kernel defense.

Prior to leaving for Brookings, Miller said the possibility of playing three schools from Sioux Falls would be great. She added beating those teams would leave no doubt as to which team is the best.

The Kernels are not perfect. Outside shooting has been a weakness for Mitchell until recently. Scoring from a player not named Miller or Volesky has not been seen with regularity this season. Allowing offensive rebounds this season has been a problem at times.

But they are good. Miller is very good. Volesky might be the best player on most teams in the state. They show a toughness expected of a senior-laden group.

Anything can happen at a state tournament, and the Kernels know that. They have to look back only one year to the state final, when their juggernaut offense stalled in the championship game.