One week into the season, Mitchell High School is keeping it simple on the diamond.
The Kernels have won three of their first four games with a basic approach: throw strikes and score runs when opportunities arise. Mitchell’s lone loss — the first game of a twin bill against Pierre Saturday — came when it was not able to execute such a plan.
Thus far, the Kernels have scored 28 runs on 33 hits and have yet to allow more hits to an opponent. Putting runs on the board is critical moving forward this season, particularly this week as pitching depth will be tested with five games in four days, beginning with a tilt at Sioux Falls O’Gorman at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m pretty happy with our offensive approach right now,” MHS head coach Luke Norden said. “... It’s about the process of getting better, not just coming out and playing games. We’ve gotten better just in the last couple of weeks and it’s because of the effort we put in at practice.”
Finding the strike zone consistently has been the goal this season and 57.8% of Mitchell’s pitches have been strikes so far. The Kernels have allowed more walks (22) than strikeouts (21), but have been able to overcome it with offensive production.
The lone exception came against Pierre, when Mitchell allowed eight walks that resulted in a 5-4 loss, despite giving up four hits. The Kernels still had an opportunity to win the game, but could not score with runners on second and third with one out.
“We’re playing high school kids and other high school kids are going to make mistakes like we are and they’re going to have bad at-bats like we are,” Norden said. “We can’t try to do too much on the mound and try to light up the strike zone. If we’re pounding the strike zone, four, five, six runs should win it. We can’t allow ourselves to shoot ourselves in the foot and allow teams to be in games due to us.”
In the second game, however, Mitchell rebounded with a win as Jake Helleloid pitched a shutout on four hits, two walks and threw strikes on 63.3% of his 71 pitches. Offensively, the Kernels got back to being efficient, needing just five hits to score six runs.
Norden believes long-term success will continue to hinge on throwing strikes and player engagement. The Kernels led 3-0 in the Game 1 loss to Pierre and mustered one run the remainder of the game, compared to 13 runs in the fourth inning or later in the three wins.
“We’re going to find out who we are when we play a lot of innings and we see what kind of attitudes we continue to bring no matter what kind of playing time everybody has,” Norden said. “When we can play enough games where we can regulate if everybody’s on board and everybody’s in it for the right reasons and everybody’s in it for something special, then we’ll know what we’ve got.”