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Mitchell looks to maintain mental focus as playoffs begin

Mitchell's Max Schoenfelder fields a ground ball to first base in the first game of a doubleheader against Sioux Falls Washington on Monday at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell High School appears to be hitting its stride on the baseball diamond at the right time.

The Kernels enter the Class A playoffs winners of five consecutive games. Hosting the first round of the playoffs was still within grasp as of Tuesday, with the potential of earning the No. 4 seed or traveling to Sturgis as the No. 5 seed on Saturday.

Regardless of seed, Mitchell is confident in its chances. For the Kernels, making it through the first two games and into the state tournament hinges upon mental focus.

"Mentally, we're getting better," MHS head coach Luke Norden said. "We're getting a little bit more focus, a little bit more drive, mentally. ... Offensively, we've got a lot more focus on hitting the ball. I've been happy with where we are up and down the lineup. We just have to get a couple more guys keyed in on not trying to do too much."

That mental focus will also be beneficial for Mitchell in the two-game format on Saturday. Earlier in the season, Norden felt his team had hindered its playoff position by struggling to close out doubleheaders after winning the first game.

The Kernels split four twin bills this season, three of the four splits coming after winning the first game. They averaged five runs per game in the first half of those doubleheaders, compared to 3.25 in the second.

They were able to end the season by sweeping Rapid City Stevens and Sioux Falls Washington, however. Mitchell even bounced back from a sluggish start to beat the Warriors in the nightcap.

There are also five Kernels—Peyton Nash, Koby Larson, Drew Kitchens, Carson Max and Austin Kerr—entering the playoffs with a .300 batting average and at least 10 RBIs, led by Nash's .411 average and Larson's 16 RBIs.

"We have struggled with the longevity of being out here and losing focus a little bit," Norden said. "If we're the No. 4 seed, we would play the first game and the third. If we're the No. 5 seed, we would play back-to-back games. You're looking at playing a doubleheader and a long time at the ballpark. Practice in those mental situations was good."

For Mitchell, the difference between the fourth or fifth seed is a long drive. On the diamond, Class A appears to be a wide-open field, with little separation at the top.

The Kernels suffered one-run losses to the projected top-two seeds—Brandon Valley and Sioux Falls O'Gorman—while splitting with third-seeded Pierre. Meanwhile, they also split four games with current seventh-seeded Yankton.

"I think there's nine or 10 teams that could easily make the state tournament," Norden said. "I don't think there's a dominant team out there. It'll be interesting to see—after this weekend—where everybody sits, but I think there are nine or 10 teams that could make a run for it."

The Class A playoff pairings are slated to be finalized today.