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TRAXLER: Critics be darned, the Kernel girls have won their way to state

The Mitchell Kernels girls basketball team is going to the state tournament. And frankly, that's all that matters. The Kernels picked up win No. 6 on Tuesday night in the Region 2AA state qualifier, topping Sturgis 51-44 at the Corn Palace to adv...

The Mitchell Kernels girls basketball team is going to the state tournament.

And frankly, that's all that matters.

The Kernels picked up win No. 6 on Tuesday night in the Region 2AA state qualifier, topping Sturgis 51-44 at the Corn Palace to advance to the state tournament for the 25th time. A proud accomplishment for a storied program.

But it hasn't been a pretty run to Sioux Falls. The Kernels lost 10 games and less than a week ago, scored just 15 points in a convincing loss. There's been plenty of feedback on social media, rueing this day of how a sub-.500 team could be making the Class AA state girls basketball tournament when there's winning and "more deserving" teams out there.

I won't act like the current system is good, or that it's fair. It's not either of those things. But this was the path presented to the Kernels. And I won't begrudge a team for doing exactly what it had to do to get to state.

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"That's the way the system goes," said Mitchell senior Erin Farnham. "You have to beat the teams in front of you. We had to win some games and we won them."

They did win those games. Prior to that 44-point playoff loss to the runaway Eastern South Dakota Conference champion Aberdeen Central, Mitchell won back-to-back games against Huron and Yankton on consecutive days at the end of the regular season. The win over Huron, for example, allowed the Kernels to become a No. 3 seed and to play Pierre, who they went on the road and defeated in the first round of the playoffs.

That's the road the Kernels had to state. They took advantage; and it's what teams do all of the time, whether they have 20 wins or they have six.

"It comes down to, in my book, how much the team has improved from the beginning of the season to the end," said Kernel coach Wes Morgan. "If I take last year's team, they were pretty much the same team all the way through. This team has just gotten better as we've gone along. The kids are growing up and they're getting better."

There was a point in this season where it didn't look like the Mitchell girls had any fight in them, at one point losing 10 games in a row. They could have just folded the tent and started thinking about next season.

"I think we earned our spot by playing hard every game. I think it finally just started to pay off by the end of the season," said guard Tess Limberg. "We've been waiting for this point in the season to arrive and it finally came when we needed it."

The Kernels didn't fold. Instead, they will be positioned to learn and improve from their three-game stint at the state tournament more than any of the other seven teams at the Class AA state tournament. It should be an experience they never forget, regardless of the result.

Coincidently, Mitchell's boys team is in the same position tonight in Rapid City. Despite a record with more wins (5) than losses (17), the Kernels can clinch a state tournament spot against Rapid City Central with a victory.

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Like the girls, the Kernel boys had their backs against the wall and delivered. Morgan said sometimes that's all it takes.

"Kids step up or they don't step up and our kids did that," he said. "We had that spot where it was do it or go home and our girls did it."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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