Fourth-ranked Kernels down Brandon Valley on the road to repeat as Eastern South Dakota Conference champs
Mitchell now awaits seeding into the Class AA SoDak 16, having entered Saturday at No. 3 in the standings. The Kernels are assured of a home game on Saturday, March 4.
BRANDON, S.D. — Postseason play got started one week early for the Mitchell High School boys basketball team.
At least, that’s what it felt like.
In what was effectively an Eastern South Dakota Conference championship game, the fourth-ranked Kernels started fast and played with a lead for much of the night, downing Brandon Valley, 57-49, on Saturday night.
“I’m just proud of our guys. Nobody was picking them to win at the beginning of the year and they proved everybody wrong,” said coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. “Winning an ESD title isn’t easy to do and to go back-to-back is something worth celebrating.”
The win gave Mitchell (16-4) its second-straight ESD title in as many seasons under Kreutzfeldt, checking off a major goal for the program. Prior to last season, the Kernels had gone since 2012 without a conference title.
Saturday night marked the final night of the regular season for both teams, with both bringing in a 6-1 conference mark. With a regular-season championship to play for and the added desire not to head into the postseason with a loss, the clash took on the feel of a playoff contest as the Kernels and Lynx traded blows.
“We got a state tournament warmup here by playing two good teams on back-to-back nights,” Kreutzfeldt said (Mitchell defeated O’Gorman on Friday at the Corn Palace. “I just really appreciate finishing the schedule on tough games to get you ready for that playoff game. Luckily we got to feel a little of that pressure here tonight.”
Early, the Kernels jumped out to a 10-2 lead. Then, it was the Lynx who outscored Mitchell 21-14 over the rest of the first half to steadily chip away until it was 24-23 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Lynx took their first lead since the game's start at 33-32. Moments later, with the score knotted at 35-all, the game took a defining turn. Mitchell muscled its way to a 7-0 run to close the period, giving them a 42-35 cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
“Going into the fourth quarter up seven versus up two is a totally different conversation,” Kreutzfeldt said. “Up seven, you’re one run from putting them away. … Both of these games, we’ve won little portions with 4-0 and 6-0 runs and that’s been just enough.”
From there, it was mostly smooth sailing, with the Kernels repelling every attempt at a rally by the Lynx, who never got closer than six points over the final eight minutes. A large part of Mitchell's late success game in snatching extra possessions. For the game, Mitchell out-rebounded Brandon Valley 32 to 24 with 11 offensive rebounds.
“Second chance points were likely going to be a deciding factor, that was something we identified before the game,” Kreutzfeldt said. “In that fourth quarter, we kept getting offensive rebounds and we were able to run a lot of time off. Before you knew it, we were under two minutes and into stall mode. We won that phase of the game.”
Hot shooting from the perimeter powered Mitchell all night, with the Kernels hitting six 3-pointers in the first half and five more in the second. Dylan Soulek led the charge, splashing in five shots from behind the arc as part of a 25-point night.
Soulek added five rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal, while Gavin Soukup dropped in 11 points off the bench. Colton Smith chipped in seven points and six rebounds and Charlie McCardle had six points and five rebounds.
Brandon Valley (13-7) had four players — Nate VandeBerg (14 points), Lukas Morgan (13), Landon Dulaney (12) and Josh Olthoff (10) — account for all its scoring. Saturday's game was a makeup from Tuesday when the game was called off with both teams in the gym preparing to play, due to Interstate 90's closure during the incoming blizzard.
Mitchell now awaits seeding into the Class AA SoDak 16, which is set to be played Saturday, March 4. The Kernels are assured of a home game, and held the No. 3 position in the seed-point standings ahead of Saturday’s action.