The Mitchell High School girls basketball team is a win away from sending its six seniors out with a trip to the state AA tournament.
Thanks to winning seven of its last nine games - albeit a 32-30 loss to Aberdeen Central to end the season - Mitchell secured homecourt advantage in the SoDak 16. The Kernels (12-8) welcome Sturgis (13-7) at 8 pm today to the Corn Palace. They took down the Scoopers 49-38 on Feb. 1.
"We have to continue to play well and have a short memory about the last game," Mitchell coach Wes Morgan said. "... I think we're having a decent ending here, but I would just like to see a solid finish to the end of the (season)."
To make the state tournament after a two-year absence, Morgan knows multiple seniors need to step up offensively.
"We have six seniors (and) they all have to play well," Morgan said. "We can't have one play well and the rest just be OK. When we've been consistent with a bunch of kids with 8-12 points, we've been pretty good."
This season, the Kernels average 54.5 points per game, but have lacked a true go-to scorer. Tess Limberg (11.8 ppg) leads the team in scoring, though Mackenzie Miller (10.7 ppg) and Payton Morgan (9.6 ppg) have also been consistent contributors.
Hoping to crack a defense which allows 44.6 points per game and held them to 38 percent shooting earlier this season, the Kernels have focused on outside shooting. Mitchell connects on 31.4 percent of its 3-point attempts, with Jordyn Cranny making a team-high 32.
However, it also has put an emphasis on help-side defense given Sturgis' size. Five-foot-8 Loralee Stock and 5-foot-10 Olivia Jolley scored 12 and 6, respectively, against the Kernels in the first meeting.
"We just have to really focus on help defense and rebounding," coach Morgan said. "And not letting Stock get into the paint. If she gets going, it's going to be tough on us."
Stock averages 15 points and six rebounds per contest, while Jolley adds 10 points and eight boards per game. They help the Scoopers score 48.3 points per contest.
On the glass, Miller (4.4 rpg) and Tayler Factor (4.2 rpg) pace Mitchell. Factor's 2.7 steals per game also are a big factor in the Kernels allowing 50.6 points per game.
Being at home helps, too. The Kernels are 8-1 at the Corn Palace this season, averaging 59.9 points and allowing 49.3.
"Typically, we're more comfortable (at the Corn Palace)," coach Morgan said. "It's been our sweet spot and where we like to play at."
To keep its home success and season alive, Morgan wants to see his team come out with a "great attitude and great energy."
"If we play up to our capabilities, I like our chances. But if we don't it's a tough night," he said. "... If we can put it together here and get confident as we go past these last couple of games, I think some good things can happen. It's just a matter of finishing."