The two-year absence from the Class AA girls basketball state tournament is over for Mitchell High School.
The No. 8 seed Kernel girls play top-seeded Sioux Falls O'Gorman at 2 p.m. CT Thursday in Rapid City, with the winner taking on the winner of Brandon Valley vs. Brookings in the second round.
Led by their six seniors, the Kernels defeated Sturgis, 60-35, in the SoDak 16. O'Gorman advanced to its 10th straight state tournament with a SoDak 16 win over Pierre, 60-38.
"For these six seniors, it's going to be a fantastic way to finish out their senior year of basketball," Mitchell coach Wes Morgan said. "We'll see if they can make a run at this tournament."
A potential run starts against O'Gorman, which beat Mitchell, 60-38, on Feb. 16. Despite the loss, Mitchell believes playing the Knights at the end of the season will help.
"It familiarizes us with who their players are and what we have to do against those players to give us a chance," Morgan said.
To avoid the same fate and upend the top seed, the Kernels have put a focus on stopping 6-foot-1 forward Emma Ronsiek down low. She scored 22 points against the Kernels earlier this season, while leading the team in scoring (15.1 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg), assists (55) and steals (24).
Morgan emphasized Mitchell's help defense, while adding it could throw double-teams against her, too.
"We can't give her any open looks," Morgan said. "She's going to score some points, but we have to keep her off the rebounds. We got to be aggressive with her. We're going to have help from the other players. I don't have a player who can guard her straight up."
The Knights also get contributions from Carly Kunkel (5.6 ppg) and Awoti Akoi (5.4), while Isabelle Moore chips in 8.5 points per contest off the bench to help them score 51.3 points per game. Akoi also ranks second on the team in rebounding with 5.7 boards per game.
"They got about five really good guards who could create a lot of problems for us," Morgan said. "But we'll see what the tournament brings, and if we're up for the challenge."
For the Kernels to break through offensively, Morgan said his team has continued to focus on outside shooting. They're connecting on 29.9 percent of their 3-pointers this season, with Jordyn Cranny (27 made 3s), Payton Morgan (17) and Avia Haley (14) all hitting at least 10 3s.
Although, Tess Limberg's 11.7 points per game leads the Kernels, who average 53.3 points per contest. Payton Morgan and Tayler Factor chip in 9.1 and 8.3 points, respectively.
Despite an emphasis on outside shooting, Mackenzie Miller's post play landed her on the all-ESD team. She's added 8.3 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting, as well as 4.3 boards per contest.
"She's been one of those players who has been very solid in her role," coach Morgan said. "She's done a great job being consistent. When we need a big shot, she's been one of the kids who have knocked it down."
To string together a few wins, coach Morgan said the Kernels need to stick to their identity.
"(We need to) be who we are-be able to score and be able to get after teams," he said. "Other teams will score, so we have to be able to score with them."