Kernels set sights on Roosevelt in state baseball semifinals
No. 4 Mitchell (17-7) faces off with No. 1 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (18-1) as the top two seeds remaining collide in the state semifinals.
MITCHELL — Two down, two to go.
The Mitchell High School baseball team kicked off its postseason with a pair of wins in the regional play-in bracket May 21 at Cadwell Park, leaving the Kernels as one of four teams left standing to chase the 2022 Class A state championship at Sioux Falls Stadium come Saturday afternoon.
Neither game was without its stressful moments, as the fourth-seeded Kernels (17-7) dispatched No. 13 Sioux Falls Jefferson, 5-3, in their first-round game before seeing off No. 5 Harrisburg, 6-2, to reach their first state tournament since 2019. When the situation demanded it, Mitchell called upon the maturity and experience it's been afforded all season with a roster stuffed with seniors. In doing so, the Kernels are imbued with a sense of confidence heading into the weekend.
“Just to squash the bug right there and not let it linger — and we had some issues with that last year, not being able to let things go and move on from tough situations — we’ve been able to do that numerous times this year,” said Mitchell coach Luke Norden. “It’s been an indication of what we’ve been able to do this spring with damage control and being able to work our way out of situations. That’s what an experienced team does.”
Elsewhere, No. 1 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (18-1), No. 6 Sioux Falls Washington (12-10) and No. 7 Sioux Falls Lincoln (11-9) also earned their places among the last four teams.
As the bracket is not reseeded ahead of the semifinals, Mitchell will face the top-seeded Rough Riders at noon Saturday. The other matchup pits Washington, the 2021 runner-up and only program returning from the four-team tournament field from last season, against Lincoln, the No. 1 seed entering the 2021 postseason before being knocked out before reaching the state tournament, at approximately 2 p.m.
While all three appeared on Mitchell’s initial schedule to being the spring season, the weather permitted the Kernels to play just one of those contests as scheduled — an 8-2 win at Washington on April 19.
Despite this, Norden thinks it may be to the Kernels’ benefit to have not played their semifinal opponent.
“You look at some of the numbers and they’re about like us,” Norden said of the Riders, whose lone loss was a 10-run rule defeat to Brandon Valley. “... Obviously their record is a little bit better than ours, but they’ve played some close games, too, so they’re not invincible.”
“It’s probably a good thing we got canceled during the year for the unknown,” Norden continued. “I think that’s kind of how we like this matchup going in, just the unknown.”
Should Mitchell make the state title game, he also doesn’t expect the familiarity or lack thereof to play much of a role, regardless of who would emerge from the Washington-Lincoln showdown.
When looking at Roosevelt, Norden sees a team that mirrors his own in terms of senior leadership and experience, and similar to the Kernels, the Rough Riders needed to display championship mettle in order to advance out of the regional round.
Trailing 1-0, Roosevelt scored their first run of the state-qualifying contest against Yankton in the sixth inning before winning 2-1 in walk-off fashion on a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Meanwhile, the Kernels regional games against Jefferson and Harrisburg provided a blueprint for postseason success — one that Mitchell is hopeful to employ again this weekend — anchored by a pair of starting pitchers that have terrorized opposing lineups all spring.
Class A all-state first-teamer Jake Helleloid and second-teamer Landon Waddell have shined among a stacked Kernel pitching staff. In the regional bracket, the pair combined for 11 1/3 innings and 18 strikeouts while allowing just five hits and three earned runs.
Both will be available to throw Saturday, and one will certainly will start the semifinal. Norden’s preferred outcome is a semifinal win without using the other in relief, and if the Kernels can make that a reality it could very well prove to be the difference.
“If we could do exactly what we did last weekend (in the regional),” Norden began, leaving the thought only partially complete.
Mitchell now aims to fill in the blank.