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Kernels look for breakout performance after unlucky start

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Mitchell's Carter Jacobsen (24) dribbles past Houston's (Tenn.) Faizon Fields in a game during the Hoop City Classic on Dec. 27 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

For the fourth consecutive season, Mitchell High School begins January without a win. But despite being one of two teams in Class AA without a win, these aren’t the same old Kernels.

Three of Mitchell’s five losses have come by fewer than seven points, including a three-point loss to defending state champion and current Class AA No. 1 Brandon Valley on buzzer-beating heave by Joe Kolbeck on Thursday.

The Kernels will have more than a week to prepare for Class AA No. 3 Huron at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Corn Palace, but they are also looking for a bit of luck in the process.

“We’re sitting in the turning lane and we’ve got to move up a little to get the arrow to switch,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “We’re right there, we just have to inch forward a little bit and we’ll get there. … We learned a lot about ourselves playing against Houston (Tenn.). It makes things easier when you play against a team that elite and you have to do everything just right and it’s still not good enough.”

Mitchell has experienced some unlucky bounces, including a one-handed shot near halfcourt that sealed the 41-34 win by Rapid City Stevens on Dec. 21 and a loose ball that rolled directly into the hands of Kolbeck on Thursday.

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There were also early shooting woes, particularly from the outside, but Mitchell shot a season-high 51.2 percent against Brandon Valley. Carter Jacobsen also broke out of an early-season funk to score 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting.

Still, the Kernels have struggled to maintain leads late in games. They went scoreless for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter against Huron in the season-opening 57-52 loss after beginning the frame with a five-point lead. On Thursday, Mitchell was 1-for-4 with four turnovers after Caden Hinker gave Mitchell a 43-42 lead against the Lynx with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left.

Even after Ben Helleloid connected on a corner 3-pointer to go up 48-46 with 2:12 to play, the Kernels failed to attempt a shot during the remainder of the game.

“As the game gets close to the end, you have to go to your guy,” Neuendorf said. “Whether it be running a set or putting a guy in a spot to hit a shot, that’s what I’ve got to do and that’s what we are going to do. Kids have to know this how we finish it, this is who finishes it, this is what it comes down to and they hadn’t been in that spot.”

Mitchell hopes to be in such a spot with consistency in the coming weeks, beginning with the Tigers on Saturday. After one of the first five games was held at the Corn Palace, the Kernels will play eight of the next 10 games on their home court.

Seven of those games come against opponents Mitchell beat or lost to by fewer than 10 points, while six are teams that currently sit below .500 in the Class AA standings. With a potentially favorable schedule, the Kernels believe it will only take a nudge for the season to turn in the right direction.

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“We’re right there knocking, and instead of knocking, you’ve got to kick it in and that’s what we’re going to do,” Neuendorf said. “After a game like (Brandon Valley) you’d think they’d be a little winded, but guys were energetic and ready to get to work. … They sense things going their way down the road and they’re excited for it.”

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