Bluejackets suffer sectional loss to South Knox 60-40

By Noah Dalton

PAOLI – On Wednesday, things came to an abrupt end for Mitchell High School, as their 2023-24 season ended following a tough loss in the opening round of sectional play to South Knox 60-40.

This year was one that began on a high note for the Bluejackets, who kicked things off by winning three of their first four games and eventually well surpassed their win total from the previous season of just seven games, finishing with a final record of 12-12.

Given the steps the team had taken, it seemed almost a sure thing that they’d be able to build on last year’s postseason win over North Knox, the program’s first since their 2010-11 campaign, but one thing stood in their way; a hungry Spartans squad who were looking to get back to the 2A Sectional 47 championship game for the second year in a row, after they were beaten last year by eventual state runners-up Linton-Stockton.

Mitchell’s Kale England attempts a turn-around jumper against South Knox

Though this wasn’t the outcome that Mithcell head coach Jackson Ryan hoped for, he said he’s ultimately grateful for the experience of coaching this group, which includes five seniors who will be exiting the program: Ben Seitzinger, Kale England, Dawson Irwin, Bryson Shoults and Ethan Turner.

Ryan gave special thanks to them, noting their commitment to the team, even through some tough years at the beginning of his tenure as coach, including his first season when the team finished with a 3-17 record.

“Obviously disappointment is the biggest thing I’m feeling right now because I really thought that we had a chance to advance and give ourselves an opportunity to play Friday and advance and have a shot at a sectional title. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. On the flip side of that, feeling very grateful to have the opportunity every day since Nov. 6 to come in and work with Ethan Turner, Dawson Irwin, Kale England, Ben Seitzinger, Bryson Shoults,” said Ryan.

Dawson Irwin attempts a shot over the outstretched arms of South Knox’s Samuel Singleton

“And not just this year, but this is the first group that we’ve had for four years with me. I’m just eternally grateful. When we first started, times were tough. From 3-17 and just literally building it from the ground up and all five of these guys, I know Turner didn’t play all four years. I know Dawson came in late but they’ve always bought in. I just I’m eternally grateful for them and how they carry themselves on the court and off the court and really appreciate everything they’ve done for this program.”

South Knox came out firing early to quickly get ahead, with junior guard Samuel Singleton scoring 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points. Despite his hot start, the Bluejackets were right with them, knocking down three shots from long range, two from Austin Mosier and one from Irwin, in the period to help keep them with two, as they trailed 15-13 at the end of the quarter.

The tide began to shift in the second, with the Spartans scoring eight unanswered points after a basket from Irwin tied the game near the start of the quarter. They finished the half leading by double-digits, 28-18, with Mitchell getting just one more basket in the period, a three from Irwin, as they were outscored 13-5.

Mitchell’s Austin Mosier looks to drive against South Knox defender Justin Siewers

The Bluejackets played some of their best ball in the third, going on a 7-0 run of their own at one point, but it wasn’t enough to make a considerable dent in South Knox’s advantage, as they only managed to make it a nine-point game after outscoring the Spartans in the quarter 9-8.

In the fourth, Singleton, who had been relatively quiet after the first quarter, and senior Jayden McIntire combined for 20 points, with Singleton scoring 12 and McIntire adding eight, to solidify their win, as well as their spot in the semi-finals, where they’ll take on Eastern Greene.

Ryan noted the team’s continued effort to try to get back into the game after the heat of their first-quarter start wore off, even getting South Knox’s lead down to nine midway through the fourth after trailing by as many as 13 points earlier in the quarter.

“Well, we came out hot and even when we were making shots, they were still grinding out possessions and once we stopped making shots, things got a little tighter. We didn’t react the best in that regard, but continued to try to fight and claw our way back into things. I think we had it down to seven or eight with about 6:30 to go with an opportunity to score and then get a stop and try to make it a two-possession game,” he said.

Mitchell’s Bryson Shoults fires a three against South Knox

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Then, we had to try to do some things, to take some risks to speed them up, turn them over and they’re just a tough, physical, disciplined basketball team. In the month of March, we’ve played fast all year, but in order to play fast this time of year, you’ve got to be exceptionally good at it. Unfortunately tonight we weren’t and that’s the result.”

Looking ahead for Mitchell, the program will miss the five seniors set to graduate in the spring, though Ryan is optimistic about the team’s future.

He opted for depth for much of this season, often playing eight or nine players consistently in each of their games, allowing many of the team’s sophomores and juniors to gain valuable minutes that will help them to fill those roles in the coming year.

Carl Chenault lines up a jumper for Mitchell in their sectional matchup against South Knox

“I think there’s a balance of, yes we lose five seniors, but we also have three, four or five guys who have gotten some varsity time this year and that’s the good thing about having a lot of depth this year. One kid I want to brag on is Carl Chenault. From where he was at the beginning of the year to where he is now; as a basketball player and as a young man. The growth that we’ve seen from him, it’s just exponential. So, you look at a kid like that to step in and fill some of the shoes there,”

Ryan hopes the program’s success this year will motivate those returning to work hard on their games during the off-season, with plenty of playing time likely to be up for grabs after losing some key players.

“When we started, we wanted to build programs and I think what I’m most proud of this year. Our C team, our JV and varsity, everybody was .500 or better. So, hopefully, that taste of winning that we have across the board this year, hopefully, that’s contagious. Hopefully, that motivates kids,” he said.