Mitchell girls tasked with fourth-seeded Sioux Falls Jefferson in Class AA state opener
The Kernels met up with Jefferson once this season, falling 56-47 to the Cavaliers on Jan. 31 at the Corn Palace.
MITCHELL — With the SoDak 16 upset win in the rearview mirror, the Mitchell girls basketball team is shifting its focus.
The Kernels, the No. 12 seed in Class AA, head to the state tournament for the third time in five years as the lowest remaining seed and are tasked with No. 4-seed Sioux Falls Jefferson in the first round at 1:45 p.m. Thursday at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
The Kernels met up with Jefferson once this season, falling 56-47 to the Cavaliers on Jan. 31 at the Corn Palace. Mitchell fell behind early after an offensive explosion for Jefferson in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter before a late 12-0 run brought it to within six.
“When you go down 20-6 you kind of go, ‘What do we have to do to get back in this thing?’” head coach Dave Brooks said. “We switched to man and the kids just kind of hung in there. If they get on a run early in the game, especially in the state tournament atmosphere, we’ll probably have to use some timeouts just to say, ‘Alright, just relax. We’re fine. Get a stop, get a score.’”
The hot start for the Cavaliers against Mitchell wasn’t an anomaly. On the season, they outscore their opponents by 90 points in the first quarter, their best margin of any game segment.
Jefferson, which comes in at 17-4 and looking to avenge a third-place finish at the state tournament last season, boasts an abundance of speed on both sides of the ball, and the Cavaliers use that speed to play pressuring man-to-man defense. It showed up in the first game with three shot clock violations for Mitchell.
Brooks said even though the Kernels have speed on their roster, preparing for the quickness of the Cavaliers presents a difficult challenge.
“It’s still not the same as Cierra Watkins coming at you,” Brooks said of simulating the pressure in practice.
Watkins is the leading scorer for the Cavaliers, averaging 12.9 points per game, and she scored 19 in the first meeting against Mitchell. Addie Siemsen picked up 13 points for Mitchell the first time around, while Sawyer Stoebner poured in a game-high, and her season-high, 26 points for the Kernels in the loss. Brooks said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jefferson make a concerted effort to try to limit Stoebner, who was recently named to the all-Eastern South Dakota Conference team.
“She’s not a secret,” Brooks said. “They know her abilities.”
Against Brandon Valley, the duo of Stoebner and Siemsen combined for 44 points, but Brooks mentioned “unsung heroes” as essential ingredients to making a run in state. Those include Lauren Van Overschelde and Makenzie Peterson for their efforts defensively against Brandon Valley’s Hilary Behrens as a key reason why the Kernels advanced.
With a win, Mitchell would advance to the semifinals to take on the winner of Sioux Falls Washington versus Watertown, whereas a loss would send the Kernels to the consolation bracket to square off with the loser of the Washington-Watertown game.
“We’re going to be an underdog no matter who we play,” Brooks said. “We’ll probably have the same mentality: 'What do we have to lose? Let’s just go out and play.' … The old cliche is everybody comes in 0-0. For us that means a lot.”