Riding a hot streak: Kernels face defending champs in state semifinals
The Mitchell High School baseball team enters the Class A state semifinals on a hot streak, winning seven straight and eight of its last 10.
The fifth-seeded Kernels (21-6) have a chance to avenge one of its recent losses at noon on Saturday as they face the top seed and defending champion Brandon Valley Lynx (22-6) at Sioux Falls Stadium. The winner advances to the championship game at 5 p.m. against the winner of No. 2 Sioux Falls O'Gorman vs. No. 11 Sioux Falls Roosevelt.
In their only meeting, the Lynx scored the final three runs to steal a 7-6 game in what Mitchell coach Luke Norden called the Kernels', "worst game defensively all year." Mitchell, which committed 31 errors in 27 games this season, made four errors at Brandon Valley.
"We helped them out by walking a lot of guys and not playing very good defense," Norden said about his team's six-walk performance. "Just the fact that we thought we probably should've won that game and Brandon Valley probably thought they got away with one—there's no reason to think we can't win."
Since then, the Lynx are 8-1, including an 11-1 win over Douglas and 1-0 no-hitter of Sioux Falls Washington in the Region 1A playoffs. The Kernels, who are searching for their first state title since 2009, had home wins over Rapid City Central (14-1) and Rapid City Stevens (8-3) to claim the Region 4A title.
It marked the 10th time Mitchell has scored at least nine runs in a game, with it averaging 7.9 runs per contest this season.
"I think offensively, we've been a lot more consistent lately," Norden said. "I think that's been one of the better things we've done to end the year."
Leading the Kernels at the plate has been their four all-state selections. Koby Larson (.366 batting average), Carson Max (.353) and Drew Kitchens (.329) all made the first team, while Peyton Nash (.444) was named to the second team. They all are top four on the team in hits, walks and RBIs, too.
"The coolest part about it is our team had the most players voted onto the first team," Norden said. "That says a lot about what the other coaches think about our players."
However, the Kernels face a team which allowed two hits and struck out 21 batters in two playoff games as Braden Wills and Dylan Kirkeby both tossed complete games for the Lynx. Kirkeby and Joe Kolbeck were both all-state first team members for them.
Offensively, the Lynx average 5.8 runs per game and racked up 17 hits over their past two games. They scored seven runs (five earned) during Jared Miller's 4 1/3-inning start earlier this season against Mitchell.
But Norden said he hasn't decided who will start for the Kernels due to their staff's consistency. Miller (2.02 ERA), Brady Brosz (2.20), Calvin Hegg (2.96) and Kitchens (1.88) have all thrown at least 20 innings this season with a sub-3.00 ERA. Miller, who leads the team with 31 strikeouts, and Brosz have both started six games, while Hegg has started five.
"There really hasn't been anyone who's gone out there and done a poor job all year," Norden said. "It could be numerous guys. It could be someone for a couple of innings, then go to someone else for a couple of innings."
If Mitchell takes down Brandon Valley, which Norden said has similar strengths to the Kernels, it will have a break between games in its doubleheader for the first time this season.
"It's hard to say because we haven't dealt with that since last summer," Norden said about the potential break. "All of our doubleheaders have been back-to-back, so it'll be interesting to see how we respond to a little bit of layoff."