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Traxler: With nothing to lose, the streak ends for the Kernels

It was the streak that seemed like it wouldn’t stop.

It got to 23 at the end of the 2016-17 season and rolled right through a coaching change, and chugged through the 20s and 30s up to 42 consecutive losses for the Mitchell High School boys basketball team.

Players were frustrated. Fans were tired of the losing. It was clear that coach Todd Neuendorf, who was hired last April to help turn things around, was struggling with the losses piling up. Neuendorf, for example, never had a season with double-digit losses in a decade at Aberdeen Roncalli, and certainly never anything like this.

For those in attendance, Friday night won’t be forgotten.

Mitchell knew its season was over before it left the locker room. With 18 teams in Class AA boys basketball and only 16 making the postseason with a new playoff format, the Kernels’ season wasn’t going to continue.

And there was nothing to lose. When you’re 0-19, there’s no reason to hold back. If anything, the Kernels just wanted to avoid another offseason with a winless season hanging around.

The Kernels hit all the right notes needed for them to pull an upset. They had an efficient scoring night, they played solid defense, and slowed down the opposing team’s best player. And they had big games from some unsung heroes, like Kaden Soukup who drained some 3-pointers when Pierre was pulling away in the third quarter and Kiel Nelson — who has battled taller players all year — having a great rebounding and defensive night. And Carter Cavanaugh converted the final layup, a shot the Kernels struggled with all season.

Mitchell needed some breaks, too. So when Pierre completed a 90-foot pass right on the money to Peyton Zabel, you can understand if some Kernel hearts sunk. And somehow, the ball sprung on the rim a few times and fell off.

The final score: Kernels 47, Governors 45. It set off pandemonium. And joy. And relief. And tears. Players compared the feeling to winning a state championship. It was a win so sweet the students rushed the floor twice.

And given the reaction online and via social media, there are a lot of people — Kernel fans or not — who were interested in seeing the streak end and the Kernels win. It shows that Kernel basketball still matters, even in a 1-19 season.

It’s hard to know just how good Mitchell will be next year or three years from now. But if the Kernels do turn it around, it will be the win that stopped the streak that’s remembered.