When Mitchell High School travels to Sioux Falls Lincoln at 7 p.m. today in the Class AA boys basketball SoDak 16, it appears like a mismatch on paper.
The No. 16 Kernels have two wins on the season, while the No. 1 Patriots have two losses. Mitchell (2-18) is seeking its first playoff win since 2016 and Lincoln (17-2) has appeared in the state tournament 15 times in the last 18 seasons.
Still, the Kernels have reason to be confident after pushing the Patriots to the brink in a 62-59 loss at the Corn Palace on Jan. 15. That also means, however, Lincoln is aware the potential threat and weathering the early storm could be key for Mitchell.
"They're going to come out and try to get after us right away," MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. "We've got withstand that, take that early swing and settle in."
Not only is ensuring a strong start important to avoid an early run by Lincoln, but also to erase any nerves of playing a playoff game, considering Mitchell does not have a player on its roster with postseason experience.
Although Patriots are the top seed, having played a tight game this season adds some reassurance for a young Kernel squad.
"We've had an opportunity to play some good teams and some close games, so I think that will help us," Neuendorf said. "We've been telling the kids all season that these regular season games are just practice for the stretch run."
In the previous meeting, the frontcourt players were major factors on both sides. Lincoln racked up 13 offensive rebounds, while its three forwards combined for 45 points, including 21 from 6-foot-7 senior Nate Brecht.
Conversely, Kiel Nelson had one of the best games of his career last time around, scoring 18 points on 4 of 5 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, while freshman Caden Hinker added 16. Mitchell may need a similar effort from both players to spring the upset.
"Our guards are helping us rebound better and that will be a big part of it," Neuendorf said. "Kiel will have the Brecht kid and he's a big, strong kid. It's going to have to be one of those rebound by committee deals. Everybody is going to have to hit the boards."