In search of third-straight state tourney trip, No. 3 Kernel boys set for SoDak 16 clash with Watertown

No. 3 Mitchell (16-4) hosts No. 14 Watertown (7-13) in the Class AA SoDak 16, slated to tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday inside the Corn Palace.

Mitchell's Charlie McCardle (35) goes up for a shot near the basket between a pair of Pierre defenders during a Class AA boys basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Though 16 wins from 20 games earned a No. 3 seed for the Mitchell High School boys basketball team, the 21st contest goes a long way in defining an entire season.

A win grants three more games at the state tournament and a shot at a state title run. A loss, on the other hand, brings a sudden end to the best regular season the program has experienced in more than a decade.

“You don’t want to lay an egg on Saturday and be sent home early,” said senior guard Dylan Soulek. “But from the seniors’ experience, we’ve been around and know what it takes to go get this game. At the same time, you have to come out ready to play.”

Third-seeded Mitchell (16-4) hosts Eastern South Dakota Conference foe Watertown (7-13), the 14-seed, in the Class AA SoDak 16, slated to tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday inside the Corn Palace.

With a win, Mitchell would secure a third-straight state tournament bid and back-to-back trips to start Ryker Kreutzfeldt’s head coaching career, running the program’s total to 70 state tournament appearances dating back to 1916.


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After losing to Brandon Valley, 55-33, in the regular-season finale Saturday, Mitchell heads back to Brandon for a rematch with the Lynx in the SoDak 16 on Friday.

Kreutzfeldt and Soulek both acknowledged the Kernels are feeling some of the pressures that come with being a high seed — No. 3 is the new high-water mark for the program during the SoDak 16 era, topping the No. 5 seed from last season.

“There’s no denying there’s a lot of pressure with it, especially being the team that’s the high seed and should take care of business,” Kreutzfeldt said. “But we’ve been in pressure situations this season and have guys who have played in two of these (SoDak 16) games. I feel good about the guys we have out there, and as long as we play our way, we’ll be fine.”

When the two teams met earlier this season, Mitchell came away with a 63-47 win in Watertown on Feb. 18. The Arrows stuck with the Kernels for much of the first half, but once Mitchell created a double-digit lead in the third quarter, it was never threatened, as the advantage grew to as much as 20 points in the fourth quarter. Dating back to the 2020-21 season, Mitchell has won four straight meetings with the Arrows, all by at least 10 points.

Watertown is one of the few teams in Class AA that the Kernels hold an edge in size over, and Colton Smith took advantage. The 6-foot-4 freshman forward scored a career-high 28 points in the win, including 18 in the first half, on 12-of-14 shooting while also snagging 10 rebounds. Soulek, at 6-foot-3, added 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting, with four rebounds, five assists and three steals of his own.

“We have to take advantage inside every possession,” Kreutzfeldt said of Saturday's contest. “I imagine we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone (defense), but we have to continue to go in there because in a playoff game you don’t want to rely on jump shooting; that’s how you lose. And then the size on offensive and defensive rebounding, that’s our main focus is dominating those categories that we can control, and then usually the score will take care of itself.”

Mitchell's Gavin Soukup (12) dribbles up the floor while being chased by a Pierre defender during a Class AA boys basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Watertown’s tallest regular contributor is 6-foot-3 forward Caden Beauchamp, who recorded a team-high 14 points with five rebounds in the first meeting. Outside of Beauchamp, Kreutzfeldt identified a pair of 6-foot junior guards, Dylon Rawdon and Kohen Kranz, as Arrows who Mitchell will look to keep in check. The first time around, Rawdon, who Kreutzfeldt described as “the one who makes them go” was limited to seven points, while Kranz scored 10 points with two steals.

“They’ve got shooters, and then they have linebacker-looking-type dudes in the post,” Kreutzfeldt said of the Arrows. “They don’t have a ton of size, but they make up for that in playing hard and good perimeter shooting. If they’re hitting shots, on any given night they can beat anybody.”

Based off the five-year history of the boys Class AA SoDak 16, the Kernels are in a comfortable spot. Across those 40 games, the higher-seeded team is 34-6, with three of those so-called upsets being No. 9 seeds over No. 8s. Twice a 10-seed has unseated a 7 (most recently in 2019, which was Huron over Watertown), with the largest upset being an 11-seed over a 6 back in 2018, the first season of the Class AA SoDak 16.


Mitchell is 2-2 in the SoDak 16 (did not qualify in 2018), while Watertown has made it every season but is 0-5, including a 66-40 loss to Mitchell (then the 7-seed) at the Palace in a 2021 SoDak 16 meeting. The Arrows' last trip to the state tournament was in 2015.

In the SoDak 16, the No. 3 seed has won by an average of nearly 13 points per game, the closest call being a seven-point margin. However, that smallest margin is an interesting case as it pertains to Mitchell’s situation. Watertown was the 14-seed last season, as well, and pushed Sioux Falls Washington to overtime before falling, 70-63.

But Soulek believes if the Kernels do what they need to do, what they’ve done all season to this point, and keep their composure, they’ll be in position for a return to the state tournament.

“You have to be worried about them coming out hot and us not,” Soulek said. “I think the biggest thing is preparing to live with the ups and downs of the game and ultimately doing everything in our power to get a win on Saturday.”

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Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Morgan is averaging 12.1 points (second on Mitchell’s roster), 7.1 rebounds (a team-high) and 2.1 assists per game for the Kernels.
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.
Soulek’s shot marked the third lead change in the final 20 seconds.
This week marked the final rankings of the 2022-23 season, as Sioux Falls Jefferson, Dakota Valley and Aberdeen Christian topped the three classes of boys polls.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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