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One step from back-to-back state tournaments, Kernel boys get rematch they were hoping for in SoDak 16

Two weeks after falling to Rapid City Stevens on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Kernels welcome the Raiders back to the Corn Palace for a state-qualifying contest on Saturday.

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Mitchell's Charlie McCardle (35) shoots as Rapid City Stevens' Charles Christensen defends during a game on Friday, February 18, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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MITCHELL — The Mitchell High School basketball team got exactly what it wanted in its SoDak 16 matchup.

As a top-eight seed, the No. 5 Kernels are playing on their home floor against No. 12 Rapid City Stevens — a team they’re eager to get another crack at after the Raiders escaped the Corn Palace with a 60-59 victory on a 3-pointer as time expired on Feb. 18.

Since the defeat, the possibility of a rematch for the right to go to the Class AA state tournament in Sioux Falls has been on the Kernels’ radar, and when pairings were finalized , a sequel was confirmed.

“We knew we could possibly get [Stevens] again and when we heard that, we were hoping we’d get them,” said Mitchell senior Caden Hinker.

“It’s kind of a revenge tour,” added junior Dylan Soulek. “We felt like they caught us on a bad night and we want to take it to them on Saturday night.”

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Following the Feb. 18 loss, Mitchell coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt said, “that’s the first one that we’ve given away.” With the exception of Thunder Basin, which is ranked No. 1 in Wyoming’s top basketball classification, Stevens is the only team outside South Dakota’s Class AA top six to defeat Mitchell this season, which adds to the Kernels’ fierce want for a rematch. According to Kreutzfeldt, those feelings even seeped through to the final week of the regular season.

“You kind of felt it in practice the past couple of days,” he explained after a loss at O’Gorman in the regular-season finale on Feb. 25. “This was a big game, but it felt like they just wanted to get to that SoDak 16 game. Now we’re there and we’re ready to go.”

In the first meeting, Kreutzfeldt thought his team did many things well but lacked a sense of urgency early and defensive intensity throughout. As such, he claims the game plan is “the exact same” for the second meeting, but feels his team is much more prepared and hopes that leads to better execution.

However, executing the game plan isn’t likely to be enough on its own. While Stevens’ next-best win after Mitchell is over No. 10 Brandon Valley, the Raiders have stuck with several other top teams this season, falling by 12 at No. 6 Sioux Falls Jefferson, by seven at No. 4 Harrisburg and by three against No. 2 O’Gorman.

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Mitchell's Dylan Soulek (23) goes to the basket as Rapid City Stevens' Charles Christensen defends during a game on Friday, February 18, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Republic file photo

“They’re not just a team you’re going to walk all over,” Kreutzfeldt said. “They’re going to make some plays and make it tough on us because it’s win-or-go-home. You have to play hard, defend, rebound and do all those things. Now, if we do all those things, I like our chances, but if we lack in even one of them it’s going to be a ballgame, for sure."

“You look at seeds 12 through 16 and they’re the best team by far,” he continued. “They don’t have a lot of depth, but their top three guys are pretty dang good.”

Two of the three — Nate Kindred and Jaden Haefs — capitalized on Mitchell’s lack of defensive intensity in the first meeting, combining for 40 of the Raiders’ 60 points and knocking in seven triples between them, including Haefs’ game-winner.

“We just have to get up in their hip pocket and make them take tough shots,” said junior Steele Morgan. “They’re going to be looking to shoot and they’re probably going to make a few. Kindred’s got a nice stepback, we just have to get up and play defense.”

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Stevens also matches up better with Mitchell than most other teams in the bottom half of Class AA. The duo of 6-foot-7 Ben Goldy and 6-foot-6 Charles Christensen, alongside Kindred at 6-foot-4 gives the Raiders plenty of size and length on the side to go against the likes of Hinker and Morgan at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-5, respectively.

On offense, Morgan said the Kernels are looking to get the ball inside more instead of opting for threes as they did in the first meeting. In that contest, Stevens deployed a diamond-and-one defense focused on limiting Caden Hinker, and if the Raiders do so again, the Kernels feel they’re better prepared to attack it.

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Mitchell Head Coach Ryker Kreutzfedlt tells his players to play tight defense during a timeout during a game against Rapid City Stevens on Friday, February 18, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Republic file photo

Beyond game-planning on either end, Mitchell continues to emphasize the first four minutes of contests. Slow starts regularly plagued the Kernels during the second half of their schedule, and Feb. 18 was no exception. The Raiders jumped out to a 16-9 lead early and tossed in four 3-pointers in the opening quarter, making Mitchell play from behind much of the first half.

“We did not come out of the gates ready to play last time,” said junior Charlie McCardle. “Offensively we were alright, but defensively we were lacking. I feel like defense is going to win this game and our communication has been way better in practice this week.”

The ultimate goal is to put everything together and play a complete game for the first time this season. After playing O'Gorman, Kreutzfeldt said his team had come close to playing their best basketball on several occasions . An elimination game at 5 p.m. Saturday on the Corn Palace court would surely be a welcome setting for such a performance to take place.

“I think we're going to be at another level defensively because our backs are against the wall, just like every other team in the state on Saturday night,“ Kreutzfeldt said. “Our defensive intensity has been up and down throughout the year and the first time we played them it was down. If we can raise our intensity level, that’s what I see the difference being. Then, offensively, we have to get good shots as well. It’s about putting everything together, a good offensive and good defensive game.”

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 ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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