Sitting with an 0-7 record on Jan. 14, coach Todd Neuendorf felt one win would help the Mitchell High School basketball team catch fire.
One month later, the Kernels are scorching.
In the last six games, Mitchell has won five contests by an average of 25.4 points per game and it needs one win to match the total of the previous four seasons combined.
It is only the second time in six seasons the Kernels have won five games, but with a win over Class AA No. 5-ranked Sioux Falls Roosevelt today, it will mark the first five-game winning streak since 2012.
“I don’t know about team morale, but a lot of people want to shake my hand now -- people seem to like me better,” Neuendorf joked. “Now the kids are seeing and coming into games expecting to win. Winning breeds winning and they’re doing that now.”
The excitement around the program is palpable, but Mitchell enters a pivotal stretch of the season that will determine whether it is truly set to climb out of the Class AA doldrums. Beginning with tonight’s tilt with the Rough Riders -- who would be the Kernels’ SoDak 16 opponent if the state-qualifying round was played today -- at the Corn Palace, the Kernels play four teams in the top-six of the standings in the next five games.
All of those games occur in a 12-day span and it also gives Mitchell a chance to redeem some early-season losses against some of the top teams in the standings.
Two overtime losses -- including the 3/4ths-court buzzer-beater to Watertown that stands as the only loss in the last month -- and three single-digit losses to Brandon Valley, Huron and Rapid City Stevens would have the Kernels in a much different position than 5-8 and the No. 13 seed. Now they believe it’s time to prove they belong there.
“That’s why these wins are good, because our kids were like, ‘What more do we have to do here?’” Neuendorf said. “We played these teams to the bitter end and now they’re seeing we are who we thought we were. I really believe these kids can beat just about anybody. I like them. I like the way we’re playing right now.”
The Kernels have topped 60 points in each of the last seven games for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. They are shooting 48.2 percent from the field -- 55.2 percent inside the 3-point line -- and averaging 15.9 assists on 23.3 made field goals during the last seven games.
Carter Jacobsen (17.7), Zane Alm (8.1) and Macon Larson (7.0) have all seen their scoring averages increase as Mitchell has developed into a free-flowing offensive team, making it easier for leading scorer Caden Hinker (22.7) to find his stroke.
“The guys are starting to hit outside shots,” Hinker said. “They’re really knocking down shots lately. They’re making it easier on my part, so I’m more open and we can cycle (the ball).”
Continuing the offensive output against Roosevelt -- which has surrendered 60 points or more twice in 14 games -- is going to be a challenge, but the Kernels believe all the bad luck is in the past.
“I believe we lost those games for a reason,” Alm said. “We won’t be unlucky this time. We’re going to win some of these games.”