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Kernel girls upset top-seeded Knights in Class AA opener

Mitchell's Tess Limberg controls the ball underneath the basket in front of a pair of Sioux Falls O'Gorman defenders Thursday during the first half of a Class AA state girls basketball quarterfinal at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City. Also pictured is Mitchell's Payton Morgan (11). (South Dakota Public Broadcasting photo)

RAPID CITY -- Mitchell met in front of its bench after the buzzer sounded, screaming and jumping in excitement. It was fitting.

The Kernel girls made a statement to open the Class AA state tournament on Thursday at the Rushmore Civic Center, taking down top-seeded Sioux Falls O’Gorman, 63-54. It’s the first time a No. 8 seed has beaten the top seed in AA girls basketball since 2011.

Mitchell plays No. 4 Brandon Valley at 4 p.m. Central today in the semifinals.

“We practiced 10 days to figure out how to win a game, and we followed through on our gameplan,” Mitchell coach Wes Morgan said. “In the end, we were good enough to stay ahead. My six seniors carried us.”

Despite the seeding, Mitchell controlled the game from the tip as it answered every O’Gorman run with one of its own. The Knights took a 15-12 lead in the second quarter, though was ambushed by Mitchell ending the quarter on a 17-8 run. The Kernels never trailed again.

It was a mixture of Mandy Schmidt and Jordyn Cranny’s tough defense holding Creighton commit Emma Ronsiek to two points before the break, as well as Mackenzie Miller stepping up.

Miller scored six of her team-high 19 points in the second, while also adding team highs of eight rebounds and three blocks.

“Mac was a beast inside and on the perimeter,” Morgan said. “She did everything inside, covering up the post and helping on Ronsiek when she posted up.”

The run didn’t stop after halftime, though. The Kernels sprinted out to a 36-24 advantage. A Payton Morgan 3-pointer highlighted the offensive spurt, but Mitchell’s four free throws foreshadowed its fourth quarter.

Morgan said his team spent 45 minutes shooting during every practice leading up to the state tournament, and it paid off. Mitchell went 23-for-30 at the free-throw line as it iced the game with make after make in the final eight minutes.

“I bet we shot 15,000 shots in 10 days between the group, and probably about 1,000 free throws,” Morgan said. “In the end, that’s what carried us.”

While Ronsiek, who finished with 11 points, hit a 3 and made a couple of trips to the line, the Kernels relied on Miller, Tess Limberg and Payton Morgan knocking down free throws.

Limberg finished with 16 points and four assists, while Payton Morgan added nine of her 13 points at the line, helping Mitchell shoot 43.9 percent from the field. Tayler Factor fouled out with 3:06 to play, but still recorded seven points, seven rebounds and three steals.

While the Kernels lived at the line, O’Gorman tried to mount a comeback with a flurry of 3-point attempts. Despite getting open corner looks, it went 8-for-28 from beyond the arc, while shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 12-for-25 from the line. Isabelle Moore led the Knights with 13 points, but went just 2 of 9 from 3.

“I felt our defense made every shot really hard for them,” coach Morgan said. “... I thought we tired them out and took away (Ronsiek). And we were victorious in the end doing it.”

Notes: Brandon Valley beat Mitchell, 63-46, on Dec. 20 in their only regular-season meeting.

Mitchell 63, Sioux Falls O’Gorman 54

Mitchell (13-8): Jordyn Cranny 0-2 1-2 1, Tayler Factor 2-7 3-4 7, Tess Limberg 5-10 6-7 16, Mackenzie Miller 7-14 4-6 19, Payton Morgan 2-4 7-9 13, Haley Hohn 0-0 0-0 0, Macy Kempf 1-2 0-0 2, Camryn Krogman 00-0 0-0 0, Mandy Schmidt 1-2 2-2 5. Team totals: 18-41 23-30 63.

Sioux Falls O’Gorman (17-4): Awoti Akoi 1-1 1-2 3, Rylee Benson 1-8 1-2 3, Carly Kunkel 3-11 0-2 7, Abigale Muller 1-3 0-1 3, Emma Ronsiek 3-5 3-4 11, Courtney Baruth 2-3 2-5 6, Isabelle Moore 3-12 5-9 13, Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda 0-0 0-0 0, Raegen Reilly 2-4 0-0 5, Hannah Ronsiek 1-4 0-0 3. Team totals: 17-51 12-25 54.

M 9 29 41 63

O 9 23 35 54

3-pointers: M 4-9 (Miller 1-1, Morgan 2-3, Schmidt 1-2); O 8-28 (Kunkel 1-6, Muller 1-2, E. Ronsiek 2-3, Moore 2-9, Reilly 1-2, H. Ronsiek 1-2). Rebounds: M 30 (Miller 8, Factor 7); O 38 (Moore 7). Assists: M 12 (Limberg 4); O 8 (E. Ronsiek 2, Moore 2). Blocked shots: M 3 (Miller 3); O 4 (Akoi 2, Baruth 2). Steals: M 6 (Factor 3, Morgan 2); O 5 (Kunkel 2). Turnovers: M 10; O 13. Total fouls: M 20; O 21.