For the first time this season, Mitchell High School hit a skid.
After starting the season 12-2, the Kernels have lost three of their last four games, following a 53-44 loss at Yankton Friday. Each of those three losses have come against teams currently ranked in the South Dakota prep media poll and it has dropped them to No. 6 in the Class AA point standings.
Mitchell’s offensive output has matched its losses, failing to reach 50 points in all three games. Meanwhile, the Kernels have scored at least 50 points in all 13 wins this year, but have put together back-to-back 50-point outings once in their last seven.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Mitchell has a chance to get back on track, however, with a trip to top-ranked Sioux Falls Washington at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Warriors — who suffered their first loss of the season to Sioux Falls O’Gorman on Feb. 18 — have allowed at least 50 points in nine of 14 games this year and 60 in five.
“We’ve got to come ready, because we need that game,” Mitchell senior Zane Alm said. “That’s a good team and we’ve got to come firing, making shots and get a win.”
In the aftermath of losing to the second-ranked Bucks, Mitchell head coach Todd Neuendorf was candid about his team’s inability to make open perimeter shots in the game. The Kernels went 4 of 15 from the 3-point line against Yankton and are shooting 26.3% from long distance in five losses this year.
But even after going 2-for-16 from the 3-point line in a 60-42 loss to O’Gorman on Feb. 16, Neuendorf continued to encourage his players to keep shooting and has been pleased with shot selection. He has also been quick to remind players of the opponents they have faced recently, as each of the last four games have come against a team in the top-five in the standings.
“We’re going to have to come up with a way to get other guys to score the basketball,” Neuendorf said. “But they have to hit shots. I know we’re missing shots, but I’ve got to see what we can do. … It’s hard to say if there’s something schematically that we can do, because at the end of the day, we’re getting open looks. Zane has two guys on him and he kicks it out for a wide-open shot, that has to be a knock-down.”
As Mitchell struggles to find scoring sources, more of the burden has been placed on Caden Hinker. Coming off a three-game stretch in which he averaged 25.7 points, Hinker was held to 9.5 points on 27.3% shooting in the last two games.
The junior, who is averaging 17.7 points per game this year, has faced more frequent double-teams recently, which has resulted in more contested shot attempts. Alm has also faced two or three defenders, as his scoring average dipped to 10.5 points on 48.4% shooting in the last five games, compared to 15.3 points on 53.1% shooting in the first 13 games.
“Both (Hinker) and Zane are working their tails off to bring the team up,” Neuendorf said. “Sometimes when you do that, you try so hard, it backfires on you because you end up doing too much. I thought at times guys were trying to do too much and ended up turning it over. That’s just something you have to learn. When you’re good, you get special treatment and they’re on everybody’s scouting report.”