The lights are about to turn bright and Mitchell High School appears ready.
After a slight hiccup against Pierre on Feb. 2, the Class AA No. 4 Kernels finished the week with a pair of resounding road wins against Sturgis (61-34) and Spearfish (65-36). Now, Mitchell turns its attention to a daunting schedule to finish the regular season with all six remaining opponents holding a winning record.
The final stretch of the season begins at Sioux Falls Roosevelt at 7 p.m. Thursday and Harrisburg at 5 p.m. Saturday. The fifth-ranked Rough Riders ended the Kernels’ season a year ago in the SoDak 16 and the two teams are currently tied with 42.929 seed points, with Mitchell holding the No. 4 seed based on record.
The 12-2 Kernels have an eagerness to show they are not the same team that was outclassed by Roosevelt 68-50 last season and climb back into the Class AA elite.
“Our guys are going to respond,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “I know we’re playing two good teams, but we’re not going to be in a slump. We’re going to come out and compete and go after two wins. We pose problems for them like they pose problems for us. … I’m excited to go play those guys. I think our guys are excited and chomping at the bit.”
Mitchell had its two worst shooting performances of the season in consecutive games against Pierre and Sturgis, shooting less than 40%. But the Kernels got back on track against Spearfish to shoot 53.8%, despite going 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
A big reason for the turnaround was the play of Caden Hinker, who rebounded from a tough shooting night against Pierre to score 20 points on 9 of 12 shooting against the Spartans and sought to take the ball to the rim rather than settling for jump shots in both games over the weekend.
Hinker went 6-for-16 against the Governors, including 3 of 10 on shots outside the paint. But against Sturgis and Spearfish, Hinker went 17-for-32, with 19 attempts coming at the hoop.
“When I start at the rim, I feel like it feeds my game,” said Hinker, who is 47 points shy of 1,000 for his career. “I do my best when I start at the rim and go inside-out. That’s what the coaches always tell me, too. They’ve kind of guided me and helped me along with that.”
Hinker and Zane Alm continue to lead the Kernels in scoring, combining for 32.7 of the team’s 59.3 points per game. But Mitchell has proven most effective when the scoring is more balanced.
Dylan Soulek posted the best game of his career against Spearfish, with 14 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals. The sophomore has reached double figures in five of his last seven games.
Meanwhile, Lucas Moller has emerged as a threat from beyond the arc, going 3-for-4 against Sturgis. He has gone 12 of 23 from the 3-point line in the last seven games after going 6 of 18 in the first seven.
“Our best guys make their teammates better,” Neuendorf said. “Good basketball players make the people around them so much better and then there are scorers that are just looking for theirs. I think our two bigs make everybody better and it allows the guys around them to succeed. I think you’ll see five guys that are working. … It’s going to be a physical basketball game and it should be fun. I’m excited for Thursday.”