Mitchell topples No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln in state semifinals to set up all-ESD title tilt with Yankton

Mar. 17—RAPID CITY — For the first time in 11 years, the Mitchell High School boys basketball team will play for a state championship.

Behind an 11-0 run to start the second quarter, the third-seeded Kernels built a lead that they never surrendered in taking down No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln, 61-59, on Friday night at the Summit Arena.

"I can't even describe (the resiliency) at this point," said Mitchell head coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. "It's every time they take the floor where they're put in tough spots and have to fight their way out of it, and they always do. ... It makes a coach proud."

Five times in the second half, the Kernels had their advantage chopped down to a single possession, but each time, they denied the Patriots a momentum-swinging lead change.

The last of those moments came on the game's final possession. With 8 seconds showing on the clock, Lincoln inbounded from along its own baseline to guard Elliot Whitney. With Mitchell's Aiden Myers draped all over Whitney, a potential game-winning 3-point attempt ended up just off the mark, and in a mad scramble for the rebound, time expired.

"I kind of felt they were probably going to go to a shooter, probably set a screen for Whitney somewhere," said Mitchell senior forward Steele Morgan. "Our main focus was securing the rebound because we knew if we did, the game would be over."

Kreutzfeldt's primary thought during the sequence was much more simplified: "Please don't score."

In many respects, Mitchell controlled the action throughout. For the night, the Kernels limited Lincoln, one of the most prolific offensive teams in the state, to 33.3% while shooting 43.6% themselves. Mitchell also won the rebounding battle 37 to 30.

But the score didn't always reflect those statistical disparities, and Kreutzfeldt acknowledged that while the Kernels had the benefit of playing with a lead for most of the night, it hardly felt like they were in control.

"It didn't feel that way because they were always within striking distance and it's hard to put a really, really good team away," Kreutzfeldt said. "But again tonight, our guys just got tougher and tougher (as the game went on)."

Mitchell was paced by Morgan, who posted a double-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, while Markus Talley tossed in three 3s as part of his 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Dylan Soulek had 10 points and three steals, as Colton Smith contributed 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. A night after scoring a career-high, Aiden Myers dished out a game-high five assists with two steals.

For Lincoln (19-4), 7-foot-1 JT Rock put up 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, while Jack Hilgenberg added 11 points and three assists. Tate Schafer had nine points and Braxton Mohr recorded eight points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

JT Rock, who has a college basketball future at Iowa State, was the focus of the Kernels' defensive efforts all night. Though he managed a 20-10 double-double, 10 of his points came from the free-throw line, as he was held to 5 of 14 from the field by primary defender Charlie McCardle, with help down low from Smith and Morgan.

The Kernels also held Whitney, the Patriots' second-leading scorer for the season, to four points on 1 of 11 shooting.

"Charlie can barely move, he's really hurting, but he's a gamer," Kreutzfeldt said. "That's a tough matchup and (Rock) had a good night, but I thought Charlie won the matchup because he made it tough and got him frustrated."

Waiting for the Kernels in the title game is No. 4 Yankton (18-5), which knocked off No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson, 69-66, in overtime earlier on Friday night. Saturday night will be the first matchup of Eastern South Dakota Conference teams in the championship game since Yankton edged Harrisburg for the 2018 title.

"I guess those ESD schools can still get it done from time to time," Kreutzfeldt said.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Soulek added. "We're hoping to top it off tomorrow."

Class AA semifinals

Friday, March 17 — Summit Arena, Rapid City (all times Central)

No. 4 Yankton 69, No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson 66 (OT)

No. 3 Mitchell 61, No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln 59

Consolation bracket

No. 9 Harrisburg 65, No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington 55

No. 6 Pierre 56, No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt 46

Class AA championship

Saturday, March 18 — Summit Arena, Rapid City (all times Central)

No. 3 Mitchell vs. No. 4 Yankton, 8:45 p.m.

Third place

No. 1 Sioux Falls Jefferson vs. No. 2 Sioux Falls Lincoln, 7 p.m.

Consolation championship

No. 6 Pierre vs. No. 9 Harrisburg, 2:45 p.m.

Seventh place

No. 5 Sioux Falls Washington vs. No. 7 Sioux Falls Roosevelt, 1 p.m.