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‘We’re close, so close’: Kernel boys aim to take next step in Class AA postseason

Mitchell has competed with other top teams at every opportunity this season, but has come up short in all five contests against top-six teams.

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Mitchell's Charlie McCardle (35) and Mitchell's Steele Morgan (44) battle for a loose ball with a pair of Brandon Valley defenders during a game on Tuesday night at the Corn Palace.
Mitchell Republic file photo

MITCHELL — With the Class AA postseason looming, the Mitchell High School boys basketball program is hopeful its best basketball of the season lies ahead.

The Kernels own the No. 5 seed on the strength of a 13-7 regular-season record — a mark tied with No. 3 Sioux Falls Washington and No. 4 Harrisburg for third-best in Class AA — but are looking to elevate their level of play and recapture the form that propelled them to a 10-2 start which featured a six-game win streak.

Mitchell’s second-half schedule — the most difficult in Class AA based on opponent win percentage — was tough on the win-loss record, as the Kernels dropped five of eight contests in January. Additionally, Mitchell owns a 4-7 record against teams with records at or above .500, and against the five other teams seeded sixth or better, that record is 0-5.

However, the Kernels were in each of their losses late, as all but one loss came by single digits, including two by a single point. Those losses include the No. 1 team in Wyoming’s top class, Thunder Basin (61-53), No. 4 Harrisburg (68-59), No. 6 Sioux Falls Jefferson (54-45), No. 1 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (55-54), No. 3 Sioux Falls Washington (71-66) and Rapid City Stevens (60-59).

“It’s tough because you think about [No. 1] Roosevelt and that’s a basket away from being an absolute signature win — the best win in Class AA,” said Mitchell coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. “There are some pretty dang good wins in there. … We just feel like we’re close, so close.”

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The lone defeat to come by more than nine points was a 68-50 loss at O’Gorman in the regular-season finale, in which the Kernels trailed by just five points entering the fourth quarter.

Among those “pretty dang good wins” are home victories over No. 7 Sioux Falls Lincoln — a game in which Mitchell had to rally from 12 points down late just to force overtime before slipping past the Patriots — and No. 8 Aberdeen Central, where the Kernels withstood a hot-shooting first three quarters to ground the Golden Eagles .

“I’d say Lincoln really showed the grit of the team, but we haven’t really got that one win we really needed to get on those teams above us,” said Mitchell senior Caden Hinker. “Maybe it’s just that our time is coming, and it’s the right time of year for that to happen. But I’m not too worried about it, we’ve played with all those teams.”

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Mitchell's Dylan Soulek (23) looks for an outlet as Brandon Valley's Max VanWesten, left, and Brandon Valley's Landon Dulaney defend during a game on Tuesday night at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

Kreutzfeldt and Hinker identified early games away at Pierre, a 69-54 win, and at home against Brandon Valley, a 59-46 victory, as two games where the Kernels played nearest to their peak. The pair also agreed that while Mitchell has played at a high level offensively and defensively at different points in the season, they’ve struggled to do both simultaneously.

“We really haven’t combined a good offensive night with a good defensive night, but we’re confident and feel like we’re right there,” Kreutzfeldt said.

If Mitchell is to put everything together, make the leap and take down another top opponent, it’ll have to be in the Class AA state tournament. But first, the Kernels are focused on correcting the only loss they took to a team in the bottom half of the South Dakota standings.

No. 5 Mitchell welcomes No. 12 Rapid City Stevens (10-10) back to the Corn Palace at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 5, just two weeks after the Raiders clipped the Kernels on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer .

“If we just go out to take care of business and play our version of basketball, we’ll be fine in the SoDak 16,” Hinker said. “I think the guys are ready and we’re excited to get a full week of practice in and get out there. … Hopefully, we knock out a SoDak 16 win, and then those wins we want are coming at the state tournament.”

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Class AA boys basketball SoDak 16 matchups
Saturday, March 5 – All times Central
Eight winners are not reseeded prior to the state tournament
Upper bracket
No. 16 Sturgis (6-14) at No. 1 Sioux Falls Roosevelt (20-0), 5 p.m.
No. 9 Yankton (12-8) at No. 8 Aberdeen Central (12-8), 6 p.m.
No. 13 Spearfish (8-12) at No. 4 Harrisburg (13-7), 6 p.m.
No. 12 Rapid City Stevens (10-10) at No. 5 Mitchell (15-5), 5 p.m.

Lower bracket
No. 11 Pierre (9-11) at No. 6 Sioux Falls Jefferson (12-8), 3 p.m.
No. 14 Watertown (6-14) at No. 3 Sioux Falls Washington (13-7), 1 p.m.
No. 10 Brandon Valley (9-10) at No. 7 Sioux Falls Lincoln (11-9), 3 p.m.
No. 15 Huron (6-14) at No. 2 Sioux Falls O’Gorman (18-2), 2 p.m.

Related Topics: MEMBERS-ONLYBOYS BASKETBALL
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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