No. 3 Kernels hold off late challenge to down Pierre, advance to semifinals for first time since 2012
Mitchell (18-4) faces off with No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln at 8:45 p.m. Central on Friday.
RAPID CITY — In Ryker Kreutzfeldt’s words, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team’s first objective at the state tournament was to “kick down the wall” and get the program back to the state semifinals for the first time in more than a decade.
Check that goal off the list.
After surrendering the lead in the fourth quarter for the first time since the early stages, the No. 3 Kernels pushed back to reclaim the advantage and fended off every late rally attempt from sixth-seeded Pierre, locking up a 60-51 Class AA quarterfinal win on Thursday night at the Summit Arena.
With the victory, Mitchell will compete in the semifinals for the first time since 2012, a season that ended with a runner-up finish in Rapid City.
“The past two years, we got here but couldn’t win the first game,” said senior forward Steele Morgan. “This year, we win this first one, and I think we proved a lot of people wrong.”
As the game progressed and the margin tightened, the contest’s physicality ratcheted up, allowing the veteran Kernels to flex some of the resolve that landed them among the state’s elite.
After Pierre clawed back from a 14-point first-half hole to take a lead in the fourth quarter — the Governors’ first edge since the middle of the first quarter — Mitchell replied with a 7-0 spurt. When the Govs rallied to tie the contest at 47-all, the Kernels responded again, this time closing the game on a 13-4 run.
“It was looking bleak there. We were really struggling,” Kreutzfeldt said. “We just kept telling the guys that they had to get tougher as the game goes on, and they just kept doing that. There were plenty of times where we could’ve folded or turned on each other, but we didn’t.”
The final salvo included a go-ahead 3-pointer by Aiden Myers and another that effectively clinched the win by Markus Talley, along with a pair of tough finishes near the rim by Dylan Soulek. Mitchell made its last five shots from the field to pull away.
Markus Talley seals the victory for the Kernels with a corner 3!#SDHoops23 | @MitchellKernels pic.twitter.com/V5AA00G02b— Digital Z South Dakota (@DigitalZSD) March 17, 2023
“These are two evenly-matched teams, so of course Pierre was going to stick around,” Kreutzfeldt added. “It was about being tougher. The tougher team wins usually, and I thought we made some really tough plays down the stretch.”
Morgan paced Mitchell with 18 points, as Myers added 13 and Talley tossed in 11. Soulek chipped in eight points with a team-high seven rebounds, while he and Charlie McCardle each registered three assists.
For Pierre, Lincoln Kienholz scored 19 points with three rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Jackson Edman added 14 points and nine rebounds. Benjamin Heisler had nine points and six rebounds.
Myers’ career night
For the season, Aiden Myers averaged five points per game as he was looked to primarily as facilitator and initiator for the Kernels’ offense. But the senior guard saved his best performance of the season to help Mitchell advance on the biggest stage.
“He doesn’t let what other teams are doing (defensively) affect him,” Kreutzfeldt said of Myers. “Some teams have let him shoot, and we tell him to shoot when he’s open. He did tonight and drilled a big-time 3.”
Marked by tough finishes through contact near the basket and punctuated by the late go-ahead corner 3-pointer, Myers’ 13-point performance was a career-high.
“I don’t even know, I was just hooping,” Myers said of his big night. “I felt good after that first and-one. When I was shooting it felt good, too, so when I got that corner 3, I just had to make it.”
On to the next
Waiting for Mitchell in the semifinals is No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln, which largely controlled its 56-48 win over No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt in Thursday night’s earlier quarterfinal.
When the Kernels and Patriots met in Sioux Falls on Jan. 21, the home team escaped with a one-point win on a game-winning putback in the final moments. As such, Mitchell’s looking for another opportunity to prove its championship mettle.
The Patriots have the most unique weapon in Class AA at their disposal in 7-foot-1 center JT Rock, who will be the primary focus of the Kernels’ defensive plan.
“I thought JT was a lot more physical (in the quarterfinals) than he has been,” Kreutzfeldt said. “We’re going to have to take care of that and make him operate from 6 to 8 feet. The problem is they have all these perimeter shooters. … We can take a chance on a 3, but we can’t take a chance on JT shooting a layup.”
Mitchell (18-4) faces off with Lincoln in Friday’s second semifinal slated for 8:45 p.m. Central.
Pierre (14-8) plays Roosevelt in the consolation bracket at 2:45 p.m. Central on Friday.
Class AA quarterfinals
Thursday, March 16 — Summit Arena, Rapid City
No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson 53, No. 9 Harrisburg 41
No. 4 Yankton 58, No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington 51
No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln 56, No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt 48
No. 3 Mitchell 60, No. 6 Pierre 51
Class AA semifinals
Friday, March 17 — Summit Arena, Rapid City (all times Central)
No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson vs. No. 4 Yankton, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln vs. No. 3 Mitchell, 8:45 p.m.
No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington vs. No. 9 Harrisburg, 1 p.m.
No. 6 Pierre vs. No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt, 2:45 p.m.