Kernel baseball embraces challenge of winning home regional play-in – Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Two wins stand between the Mitchell High School baseball team and a potential return trip to the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2019.

For the No. 4 Kernels (15-7) to reach that stage, they’ll have to navigate a four-team regional pod that includes first-round opponent No. 13 Sioux Falls Jefferson (6-18) along with defending Class A champion No. 5 Harrisburg (14-10) and No. 12 Sturgis (11-9) in the other matchup. The winners of those contests will play one another for the state tournament bid.

Mitchell has ample experience winning two games in a single afternoon over the past seven weeks. Out of nine doubleheaders, Mitchell swept five, including a pair of wins over Jefferson at Cadwell Park on April 26.

“They are, by far, one of the biggest teams we’ve seen over the years,” Norden said of the Cavaliers. “I think they had one guy under 6-foot in their starting lineup, so they’re a bunch of big 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 guys who are strong and athletic. But there are a lot of similarities between us, I think. They didn’t call a lot of plays or bunt, they just let their guys go out and swing.”

“I would rather go into a situation on Saturday where we’re playing a team that we played close as opposed to a team that we blew out in convincing fashion,” Norden continued, alluding to the Kernels’ 6-4 and 6-5 wins over Jefferson. “Mindset-wise, I think that’s going to set up well for us.”

As for results against the other two teams in the bracket, Mitchell also defeated Sturgis in a single game on April 3. Then, just two weeks ago, Harrisburg escaped Cadwell with a pair of wins despite the Kernels holding a lead entering the final inning in both contests.

Given the events of those games from May 7, the Kernels would welcome the challenge of facing Harrisburg again should both teams advance out of the first round as the higher seed.

“Absolutely (we want another game against Harrisburg) and I hope the guys take it as an opportunity,” Norden said. “We think those were two games we should have come out ahead but we didn’t, but you have the opportunity to come back, play again and hopefully put ourselves in a position to win again and finish the job this time.”

But if recent history is anything to go by, a Mitchell-Harrisburg rematch is no guarantee. Perhaps more so in baseball than any of the other high school sports with play-in rounds to reach the state tournament, higher seeds are not immune to having their season ended earlier than expected.

Mitchell center fielder Seth Muth throws a ball back to the infield during the first game of a doubleheader against Harrisburg on May 7, 2022, at Cadwell Park.

Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Just last season, the top three overall seeds fell in their regional play-in tournaments, making No. 4 Harrisburg the highest seed and only regional host to reach the final weekend, joined by No. 6 Brandon Valley, No. 7 Sioux Falls Washington and No. 7 8 O’Gorman.

Before that in 2019 (no tournament in 2020), No. 5 Mitchell was among a field that included No. 1 Brandon Valley and No. 1 2 O’Gorman, but the final team was No. 2 11 Sioux Falls Roosevelt. That postseason, seeds No. 10 and No. 13 also won their first-round game to get within one game of the state tournament.

Such is the nature of a tournament that uses single-game single elimination in a sport that offers double elimination or best-of series play at higher levels.

“It comes down to pitching matchups in a win-or-you’re-done scenario,” Norden explained. “It really puts the pressure on teams to perform. The format is what it is and the results are year-to-year. Some years the top teams go, and other years maybe only one makes it and the rest are outside the top four.”

However, if there’s a recipe for the Kernels to stave off elimination, it likely includes the hard-throwing combo of Jake Helleloid and Landon Waddell. Simply put, the pair have been magnificent on the mound for Mitchell during the spring season.

Across 22 2/3 innings, Waddell owns a squeaky-clean earned run average of 0.00 to go with 36 strikeouts. Waddell’s best outing to date came in the first game of Mitchell’s regular-season doubleheader against Jefferson, in which he struck out 12 batters in 5 2/3 innings.

For Helleloid, two recent performances — a 12-strikeout complete game against Brookings on May 6 and a 10-strikeout win (in just four innings) against Yankton on May 13, plus a save in the other game of the series — stand out as true gems among the team-leading 25 innings and 43 strikeouts he’s racked up.

According to Norden, one of the two will likely start against Jefferson come noon Saturday at Cadwell Park, with the other ready to start a potential second game or, if the situation calls for it, make a relief appearance in the first contest.

“You can never say ‘I’m going to save a guy,’ because you might be saving him for nothing,” Norden explained. “Obviously everybody we’ve put out there has had to be really good, but those two have been extra special for us.”

Following the Mitchell-Jefferson contest at noon, Harrisburg and Sturgis will play at approximately 2 pm The state tournament qualification game will begin at approximately 4:30 pm A live stream of each game Mitchell plays will be available at mitchellrepublic.com.

Kernels-Harrisburg-1.jpg

Mitchell pitcher Jonah Schmidt winds up before his delivery during the first game of a doubleheader against Harrisburg on May 7, 2022, at Cadwell Park.

Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Sioux Falls Jefferson
Record: 6-18
Against Mitchell: lost 6-4 and 6-5 on April 26
Player to watch (stats against MHS): Treyson Harty-Olsen, 1B (2-for-7, single, triple, 3 RBI)

Harrisburg
Record: 14-10
Against Mitchell: won 15-10 and 11-10 on May 7
Player to watch (stats against MHS): Tyman Long, C (2-for-4, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 3 HBP)

Sturgis
Record: 11–9
Against Mitchell: lost 14-7 on April 3
Player to watch (stats against MHS): Ridge Inhofer, CF (3-for-4, two singles, triple, 2 RBI)

Leave a Comment